The effects of threatened social evaluation of the physique on cortisol activity
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Social self preservation theory asserts that situations high in social-evaluative threat elicit increases in cortisol, a hormone released by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Most tests of the theory have examined threats associated with social evaluation of a performance. Two experiments examined the effects of threatened social evaluation of one's physique. In Experiments 1 (n = 50) and 2 (n = 40), participants allocated to an experimental (threat) condition had significantly higher post-manipulation cortisol than participants in a control (no threat) condition. In Experiment 1, perceptions of social-evaluative threat were significantly correlated with post-manipulation cortisol levels. These results suggest that the threatened social evaluation of one's body can activate the cortisol response. Women who frequently experience such threats may be at increased risk for a variety of health conditions associated with chronic cortisol exposure.
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