Research ArticleCLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY

Specific reduction in cortisol stress reactivity after social but not attention-based mental training

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Science Advances  04 Oct 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 10, e1700495
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700495
  • Fig. 1 Methodological details of the ReSource Project and the stress testing session.

    (A) Training modules and core exercises of the ReSource Project. (B) Time points of cross-sectional stress testing within the greater context of the ReSource training timeline and cohort membership of each participant. NT, no training; Prs, Presence; Aff, Affect; Prs/Aff, Presence/Affect; Prs/Per, Presence/Perspective. (C) Stress testing timeline and raw cortisol data (in nanomolar) (error bars represent SEM) over time (relative to stressor onset at 0 min), separated by group. Because covariates are not considered, results deviate from the model-derived depiction. ECG, electrocardiogram.

  • Fig. 2 Parameter estimates from hierarchical linear models showing training effects on stress markers.

    Values at the first measurement point are equalized, representing statistical control for baseline scores. (A) Training groups, which did not differ from one another (all P values >0.10), showed reduced self-reported stress reactivity [assessed with the STAI (25)] compared to the no training group (all P values between ≤0.01 and ≤0.001). (B) Three-month Presence relative to no training had no impact on the HPA axis stress response (P > 0.10). Three-month Affect (P ≤ 0.05), 6-month Presence/Affect (P ≤ 0.01), and 6-month Presence/Perspective training (P ≤ 0.001) reduced cortisol stress reactivity relative to no training. Affect and Perspective groups did not differ from one another (P > 0.10). Compared to 3-month Presence training, 3-month Affect training reduced cortisol stress reactivity (P ≤ 0.05). Mental training did not influence (C) AA, (D) HR, (E) HF-HRV, (F) hsCRP, and (G) IL-6 stress responses (all P values >0.10).

  • Fig. 3 Psychoendocrine covariance after training relative to no training.

    For illustrative purpose, we show bivariate correlations between STAI and cortisol baseline-to-peak change scores (Δ) in (A) the no training group and (B) all training groups. Linear regression showed that relative to the untrained group, mental training influenced the association between subjective and cortisol stress markers (P ≤ 0.001). Both the initial 3-month attention-based Presence (P = 0.015) and the sequential Presence/Perspective training (P = 0.049) significantly increased the association of ΔSTAI and Δcortisol. The sequential Presence/Affect training only induced a marginal change (P = 0.086). Three-month Affect training alone had no effect on psychoendocrine covariance (P > 0.20). Changes in psychoendocrine covariance did not differ between the training groups (all P values >0.10).

  • Table 1 Bivariate correlations of stress reactivity scores (Δ) in the no training group.
    Response system
    HPA axisAutonomicImmuneSelf-report
    MarkerΔCortisolΔAAΔHRΔHF-HRVΔhsCRPΔIL-6ΔSTAI
    ΔCortisol1−0.0040.1650.1380.184*−0.0490.044
    ΔAA10.141−0.027−0.1010.0280.079
    ΔHR1−0.434***0.0190.0990.041
    ΔHF-HRV1−0.117−0.265**−0.087
    ΔhsCRP1−0.049−0.080
    ΔIL-610.087
    ΔSTAI1

    *P ≤ 0.05.

    **P ≤ 0.01.

    ***P ≤ 0.001.

    • Table 2 Omnibus F tests in linear mixed models for training effects on self-reported and HPA axis stress responses.

      Removing the covariates from a respective model did not change the pattern of significance.

      STAICortisol
      Fixed effects
      F (df)PF (df)P
      Intercept (peak)
        Intercept13180.99 (473)≤0.0011450.30 (303)≤0.001
        Group8.43 (477)≤0.0015.26 (304)≤0.001
        Baseline113.00 (476)≤0.00115.74 (304)≤0.001
        Sex/hormones2.76 (283)0.0989.79 (300)≤0.001
        Age0.72 (283)>0.3000.85 (300)>0.300
        Time of day11.37 (300)≤0.001
      Recovery slope
        Intercept770.32 (480)≤0.001653.77 (307)≤0.001
        Group8.68 (480)≤0.0012.10 (307)0.080
        Baseline2.51 (480)>0.1005.09 (308)0.025
      Random effects
      Estimate (SE)Estimate (SE)
      Subject25.53 (2.66)0.40 (0.03)
      Recovery slope0.005 (.003)≤0.001 (≤0.001)
    • Table 3 Omnibus F tests in linear mixed models for training effects on autonomic and immune stress responses.

      Removing the covariates from a respective model did not change the pattern of significance. BMI, body mass index.

      Autonomic markers
      AAHRHF-HRV
      Fixed effects
      F (df)PF (df)PF (df)P
      Intercept (peak)
        Intercept29132.77 (367)≤0.001317646.14 (371)≤0.0015253.12 (433)≤0.001
        Group0.91 (368)>0.4000.98 (374)>0.4001.79 (436)>0.100
        Baseline321.53 (368)≤0.001230.68 (374)≤0.001101.47 (417)≤0.001
        Sex5.79 (299)0.0171.72 (257)>0.1005.98 (251)0.015
        Age0.46 (298)>0.4002.12 (258)>0.1008.47 (252)0.004
        BMI2.15 (298)>0.1000.38 (258)>0.5000.22 (252)>0.600
      Recovery slope
        Intercept360.90 (369)≤0.001938.89 (254)≤0.00126.96 (250)≤0.001
        Group1.92 (369)>0.1000.67 (254)>0.6001.33 (250)>0.200
        Baseline1.41 (373)>0.2000.05 (258)>0.8002.87 (249)0.091
      Random effects
      Estimate (SE)Estimate (SE)Estimate (SE)
      Subject0.18 (0.02)0.009 (0.001)0.43 (0.08)
      Recovery slope≤0.001 (≤0.001)No variance; excludedNo variance; excluded
      Immune markers
      hsCRPIL-6
      Fixed effects
      F (df)PF (df)P
      Intercept (peak)
        Intercept1160.07 (469)≤0.001<0.01 (1)>0.900
        Group0.64 (473)>0.6000.43 (4)>0.700
        Baseline27503.27 (452)≤0.001260.49 (1)≤0.001
        Sex0.36 (283)>0.5007.07 (1)0.008
        Age3.69 (284)0.0560.02 (1)>0.900
        BMI1.09 (284)>0.2002.04 (1)>0.100
      Recovery slope
        Intercept55.34 (281)≤0.001
        Group0.74 (281)>0.500
        Baseline0.11 (282)>0.700
      Random effects
      Estimate (SE)
      Subject0.004 (≤0.001)
      Recovery slopeNo variance; excluded
    • Table 4 Between-group contrasts and effect sizes for training effects in self-reported and HPA axis stress reactivity.

      Between-group Cohen’s d effect sizes were calculated using t values and degrees of freedom. Aff, Affect; NT, no training; Per, Perspective; Prs, Presence.

      STAI
      NTPrsAffPrs/AffPrs/Per
      t (df)dtdtdtdtd
      NT−2.92** (477)0.27−4.12*** (478)0.38−4.42*** (476)0.41−3.65*** (476)0.33
      Prs2.92** (477)0.27−0.97 (477)0.09−1.24 (476)0.11−0.54 (476)0.05
      Aff4.12*** (478)0.380.97 (477)0.09−0.28 (477)0.030.44 (477)0.04
      Prs/Aff4.42*** (476)0.411.24 (476)0.110.28 (477)0.030.72 (476)0.07
      Prs/Per3.65*** (476)0.330.54 (476)0.05−0.44 (477)0.04−0.72 (476)0.07
      Cortisol
      NTPrsAffPrs/AffPrs/Per
      t (df)dtdtdtdtd
      NT0.63 (304)0.07−2.06* (304)0.24−2.99** (304)0.34−3.22*** (304)0.37
      Prs−0.63 (304)0.08−2.21* (304)0.25−2.97** (304)0.34−3.17** (304)0.36
      Aff2.06* (304)0.242.21* (304)0.25−0.79 (304)0.09−0.96 (304)0.11
      Prs/Aff2.99** (304)0.342.97** (304)0.340.79 (304)0.09−0.17 (304)0.02
      Prs/Per3.22*** (304)0.373.17** (304)0.360.69 (304)0.110.17 (304)0.02

      *P ≤ 0.05.

      **P ≤ 0.01.

      ***P ≤ 0.001.

      Supplementary Materials

      • Supplementary material for this article is available at http://advances.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/3/10/e1700495/DC1

        Supplementary Materials and Methods

        fig. S1. Parameter estimates from hierarchical linear models showing effects of study duration on self-reported and cortisol stress reactivity and recovery.

        table S1. Number of participants with available data (and winsorized outliers) per stress marker and measurement time point.

        table S2. Descriptive statistics per group.

        table S3. Mean number (SD) of weekly practice sessions for each mental training exercise per training module.

        table S4. Omnibus F tests in linear mixed models for habituation effects on self-reported and HPA axis stress responses.

        table S5. Coefficients from a linear regression examining improvement in psychoendocrine covariance (association of ΔSTAI and Δcortisol) in each training group relative to the no training group.

        Source data (Excel file)

      • Supplementary Materials

        This PDF file includes:

        • Supplementary Materials and Methods
        • fig. S1. Parameter estimates from hierarchical linear models showing effects of study duration on self-reported and cortisol stress reactivity and recovery.
        • table S1. Number of participants with available data (and winsorized outliers) per stress marker and measurement time point.
        • table S2. Descriptive statistics per group.
        • table S3. Mean number (SD) of weekly practice sessions for each mental training exercise per training module.
        • table S4. Omnibus F tests in linear mixed models for habituation effects on self-reported and HPA axis stress responses.
        • table S5. Coefficients from a linear regression examining improvement in psychoendocrine covariance (association of ΔSTAI and Δcortisol) in each training group relative to the no training group.

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