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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Perceived control and cortisol reactivity to acute stressors : variations by age, race and facets of control Wen, Jin-Hui


Greater perceived control is associated with better health and well-being outcomes, possibly through more adaptive stress processes. Yet little research has examined whether global perceived control, as well as its facets of personal mastery and perceived constraints, predict psychological and physiological stress reactivity. Thus, the goal of the present study was to evaluate the associations of perceived control and its facets with changes in subjective stress and cortisol in response to acute laboratory stressors. In addition, we considered the moderating roles of age and race. In a sample of 735 U.S. adults ages 25–75 (71% White, 18% Black, 11% Other/Unknown Races), participants completed a measure of perceived control at baseline and subsequently underwent two lab-based acute stress tasks. Subjective stress and salivary cortisol were collected pre- and post-stressors. Perceived control was related to smaller increases in subjective stress, but did not directly predict cortisol responses. Age and race interacted to moderate the associations between facets of perceived control and stress reactivity. Specifically, greater personal mastery predicted lower subjective stress responses in White older adults, and higher perceived constraints predicted greater cortisol reactivity among White younger adults, whereas no association was found among racial minorities. These findings suggest that, among Whites, older adults garner the stress protective benefits of mastery and are buffered against the link between constraints and cortisol stress reactivity. Future research on the role of perceived control in stress and health should distinguish between facets of control as well as consider the importance of age and racial differences.

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