This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Cortisol response to the presence of same and opposite sex individuals in various social environments




Chesser, Svetlana

Type of Degree



Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology


Consistent with the Standard Social Science Model, educational researchers, more times than not, rely on explanations steeped in cultural transmission to describe and explain student behavior. The study of single vs. mixed-sex environments is no exception. Researchers who have categorically ignored the role of biology have dominated this debate. Nevertheless, every aspect of the human`s life has a biological foundation and unless it was biologically possible, it would not exist. Given the interplay of biological, psychological and sociological systems, it is unlikely that the topical intransigence surrounding the debate of single vs. mixed- sex environs will be resolved unless future investigations consider these elements. The present work is an initial step in such a direction. Inspired by sexual selection theory and supported by bodies of neuroendocrinological research in humans and other animals, this study integrated the assumptions of evolutionary psychology that all intrasexual interactions serve reproductive purposes to some degree and investigated the organismal cortisol response to single and mixed- sex social environments with added cognitive task. Cortisol is the most potent glucocorticoid secreted by HPA-axis and in normal for individual concentrations enhances learning and memory formation, while elevated cortisol blocks necessary for learning chemical reactions in the brain. Twenty participants were asked to complete a cognitive task in mixed and single sex environs. Saliva samples of five males and four females were randomly chosen and analyzed using ELISA kit to assess free cortisol level. Results indicated that human cortisol response is sensitive to environmental sex composition. Participants’ cortisol levels (both males and females) increased significantly in the presence of opposite- sex counterparts compared to levels in single- sex environs. Interestingly, when a cognitive task was added to both the single and mixed- sex environs, cortisol levels did not significantly change. That is, cortisol response in mixed- sex environs with a cognitive task was not significantly greater than cortisol response in single- sex environs with and without a cognitive task. These findings are the first demonstration of cortisol response to the presence of same and opposite- sex counterparts in social groups with involvement of a cognitive task.