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The relationships between expressed emotion, cortisol, and EEG alpha asymmetry

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Deb DulsonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


© 2023 The Author(s)Families can express high criticism, hostility and emotional over-involvement towards a person with or at risk of mental health problems. Perceiving such high expressed emotion (EE) can be a major psychological stressor for individuals, especially those at risk of mental health problems. To reveal the biological mechanisms underlying the effect of EE on health, this study investigated physiological response (salivary cortisol, frontal alpha asymmetry (FAA)) to verbal criticism and their relationship to anxiety and perceived EE. Using a repeated-measures design, healthy participants attended three testing sessions on non-consecutive days. On each day, participants listened to one of three types of auditory stimuli, namely criticism, neutral or praise, and Electroencephalography (EEG) and salivary cortisol were measured. Results showed a reduction in cortisol following criticism but there was no significant change in FAA. Post-criticism cortisol concentration negatively correlated with perceived EE after controlling for baseline mood. Our findings suggest that salivary cortisol change responds to criticism in non-clinical populations and this response might be largely driven by individual differences in the perception of criticism (e.g., arousal and relevance). Criticisms expressed by audio comments may not be explicitly perceived as an acute emotional stressor, and thus, physiological response to criticisms could be minimum.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wang GY, Crook-Rumsey M, Sumich A, Dulson DK, Gao TT, Premkumar P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Physiology and Behavior

Year: 2023

Volume: 269

Print publication date: 01/10/2023

Online publication date: 24/06/2023

Acceptance date: 20/06/2023

Date deposited: 10/07/2023

ISSN (print): 0031-9384

ISSN (electronic): 1873-507X

Publisher: Elsevier Inc.


DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2023.114276


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