Neuroendocrine Response to School Load in Prepubertal Children: Focus on Trait Anxiety

Abstract

At the time of school-age, the most frequent stress stimuli are related to school environment and educational process. Anxiety may play a big role in coping with stressful situations associated with school load. To approach this issue, we performed a real-life study at school during the classwork. The sample consisted of 36 healthy children aged 10 years, which were divided to low and high trait anxiety group based on the median value of the anxiety score. The investigations were carried out in the classroom during a stress condition (final exams) and non-stress condition (without any exam). In the whole sample, the condition with exam was associated with higher cortisol and lower testosterone concentrations in saliva compared to the condition without exam. The activity of salivary alpha-amylase increased at the end of the exam. Anxious children showed higher concentrations of aldosterone and lower activity of alpha-amylase compared to children with low trait anxiety. Cortisol levels were higher in anxious children in the first morning samples before starting the lessons. Children with high and low trait anxiety did not differ in extraversion, neuroticism, as well as non-verbal intelligence and school success. Thus, the anxious children at school showed a more rapid decrease of anticipatory stress-induced cortisol concentrations, higher aldosterone levels, and lower alpha-amylase activities compared to non-anxious children. These changes, particularly high concentrations of aldosterone in children with high trait anxiety, may have an impact on their psychophysiological development.

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