Panel manipulation in social stress testing: The Bath experimental stress test for children (BEST-C)

Tara J. Cheetham, Julie M. Turner-Cobb

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Whilst acute stress paradigms in adults make use of adult panel members, similar paradigms modified for child participants have not manipulated the panel. Most work has utilised an audience of adult confederates, regardless of the age of the population being tested. The aim of this study was to trial a social stress test for children that provided a meaningful environment using age-matched child peers as panel actors.

Thirty-three participants (7-11 years) underwent the Bath Experimental Stress Test for Children (BEST-C). Based on the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), it comprises a shortened six-minute public speaking task and four-minute maths challenge. It differs from previous stress tests by using age-matched children on the panel, pre-recorded and presented as a live feed, and includes an expanded manipulation check of subjective experience. Salivary cortisol was assessed at four time points, pre–post stress testing; life events, daily hassles and coping strategies were measured through questionnaires. A simple numerical coding scheme was applied to post-test interview data.

The BEST-C generated a typical stress and adaptation response in salivary cortisol (p=.032). Age and gender differences were observed during recovery. Cortisol responses mapped directly onto three distinct subjective response patterns: i) expected response and recovery; ii) expected response, no recovery; iii) no response.

The BEST-C, utilising child confederates of participant target age is a meaningful social stress test for children. This is the first social stress test developed specifically for children that manipulates panel characteristics by using child confederates and a pre-recorded sham panel. Greater cortisol responses to the test were also found to match subjective verbal accounts of the experience. It offers a meaningful acute stress paradigm with potential applications to other child and adolescent age groups. Furthermore, it leads the way in the use of panel manipulation in social stress testing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-85
Number of pages8
Early online date24 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


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