Subjective stress in female elite athletes and non-athletes: Evidence from cortisol analyses


  • Martin Verner
  • Achim Conzelmann
  • Katrin Lehnert
  • Roland Seiler
  • Annina Wassmer
  • Thomas Rammsayer


Stress response can be considered a consequence of psychological or physiological threats to the human organism. Elevated cortisol secretion represents a biological indicator of subjective stress. The extent of subjectively experienced stress depends on individual coping strategies or self-regulation skills. Because of their experience with competitive pressure, athletes might show less pronounced biological stress responses during stressful events compared to non-athletes. In the present study, the short version of the Berlin Intelligence Structure Test, a paper-pencil intelligence test, was used as an experimental stressor. Cortisol responses of 26 female Swiss elite athletes and 26 female non-athlete controls were compared. Salivary free cortisol responses were measured 15 minutes prior to, as well as immediately before and after psychometric testing. In both groups, a significant effect of time was found: High cortisol levels prior to testing decreased significantly during the testing session. Furthermore, athletes exhibited reliably lower cortisol levels than non-athlete controls. No significant interaction effects could be observed. The overall pattern of results supports the idea that elite athletes show a less pronounced cortisol-related stress response due to more efficient coping strategies.