Rumination, fear, and cortisol: An in vivo study of interpersonal transgressions

Michael E. McCullough, Paul Orsulak, Anna Brandon, Linda Akers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


The authors sought to examine whether rumination about psychologically painful, though nontraumatic, interpersonal transgressions is associated with increased salivary cortisol. They measured salivary cortisol, rumination about a transgression, fear and anger regarding the transgressor, perceived painfulness of the transgression, and positive and negative mood in 115 undergraduates who had experienced an interpersonal transgression during the previous 7 days. They obtained measurements on as many as 5 occasions separated by approximately 14 days each. On occasions when participants reported that they had been ruminating to a degree that was greater than was typical for them, they had higher levels of salivary cortisol than was typical for them. The rumination- cortisol association appeared to be mediated by fear of the transgressor. Rumination about even moderately painful but nontraumatic life events and associated emotions are related to biological changes that may subserve social goals such as avoiding social threats. Items from the rumination scale are appended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-132
Number of pages7
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • Cortisol
  • Emotion
  • Fear
  • Hierarchical linear modeling
  • Rumination
  • Transgressions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Psychology(all)


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