seX & whY Episode 5 Part 1: Stress Response

Jeannette WolfePodcast Episodes

Show Notes for Podcast Five of Sex & Why

Host: Jeannette Wolfe

Topic: Stress Response

This Podcast focuses on the basics of the acute human stress response. Please see Dr Morgenstern’s excellent write up:

Performance Under Pressure Review:

Components of stress response

  • Trigger
  • Speed of activation
  • Magnitude of response
  • Time to return to baseline

Things that affect cortisol response

  • time of day
  • health
  • genetics
  • personality
  • early pre-natal/childhood stressors- epigenetics can change DNA expression
  • current stressors
  • smoking
  • if female- where you are in cycle or use of OCP
  • interaction with testosterone

Sensation of psychological stress is not always associated with physiological stress (i.e. cortisol stress response)

Conversely in psychological studies in which subjects get exogenous steroids (i.e take a hydrocortisone pill) although there are often associated behavioral changes from the steroids participants rarely feel anxious.

Somewhat ironic that women report more psychological stress but that men die on average 7 years earlier

Things that reliably trigger physiological stress:

Demands >>> Resources

  • Unpredictability
  • Uncontrollability
  • Novelty

Learning on stress is U shaped curve

  • A little stress helps things stick more
  • As stress increases harder to draw

Some suggested sex differences:

In general women have higher baseline HR than men (despite this, women are believed to have a higher parasympathetic baseline tone)


  • Men may be more vulnerable to stressors that trigger dominancy/hierarchy
  • Women may be more vulnerable to stressors that trigger social isolation

Free Cortisol is the active form and men appear to have higher free cortisol levels

Women may be more sensitive to acth- similar cortisol level with less trigger.

Men more likely to respond to threat of hierarchy, women social exclusion

Stress resiliency:

Time to respond, magnitude of response time until return to baseline

To what, how quickly, how much, how long.

Studies discussed in podcast

Alexander, G. M., Wilcox, T., & Woods, R. (2009). Sex differences in infants’ visual interest in toys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38(3), 427–33.

Ali, Amir; Subhi, Yousif; Ringsted, Charlotte; Konge, Lars. Gender differences in the acquisition of surgical skills : a systematic review. /I: Surgical endoscopy, Vol. 29, Nr. 11, 11.2015, s. 3065-3073.

Deane, R., Chummun, H., & Prashad, D. (2002). Differences in urinary stress hormones in male and female nurses at different ages. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 37 , 304–310.

Shane MD, Pettitt BJ, Morgenthal CB, Smith CD (2008) Should surgical novices trade their retractors for joysticks? Videogame experience decreases the time needed to acquire surgical skills.
Surg Endosc 22:1294–1297

Theorell Tores, On Basic Physiological Stress Mechanisms in Men and Women: Gender Observations on Catecholamines, Cortisol and Blood Pressure Monitored in Daily Life. Psychosocial Stress and Cardiovascular Disease in Women, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-09241-6_7  Published 2015 pp 89-105

Turecki, G., & Meaney, M. J. (2016). Effects of the Social Environment and Stress on Glucocorticoid Receptor Gene Methylation: A Systematic Review. Biological Psychiatry, 79(2), 87–96.

Yael, Sofer, et al. “GENDER D. S. F. C. H. L. I. M. . E. P. (2016). (2015). Original Article GENDER DETERMINES SERUM FREE CORTISOL: HIGHER LEVELS IN MEN EP161370.OR. Endocrine Practice.

White MT, Welch K (2012) Does gender predict performance of novices undergoing fundamentals of laparoscopic surgery (FLS) training? Am J Surg 203:397–400