Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Craig K. Ewart


alpha-amylase, exposure to violence, neighborhood disorder, social competence interview, stress reactivity, sympathetic adrenal medullary

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Salivary alpha-amylase is emerging as a promising proxy for assessing sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) axis activity. However, it is not known whether a brief semi-structured behavioral assessment, such as the social competence interview (SCI), also elicits alpha-amylase changes. I hypothesized that (1) the SCI would elicit alpha amylase reactivity, (2) social environmental stress (i.e, high levels of exposure to violence during childhood and low perceived community social status) would predict the alpha-amylase response to the interview and (3) that agonistic striving would mediate the relationship between social environmental stress and amylase reactivity. The study sample was comprised of healthy young adults aged 18-24 recruited from a university research pool. Results showed that the social competence interview induced a significant alpha-amylase response (F (60, 3) =15.3 p<0.001) which did not vary by sex (p>.05). Furthermore, exposure to violence during childhood was positively associated with rise in alpha-amylase, r(60)=.28, p=.03. However, agonistic striving did not mediate the relationship between exposure to violence and amylase reactivity. These findings provide further evidence for the utility of the social competence interview as a behavioral assessment eliciting sympathetic arousal and salivary alpha amylase as a sensitive index of stress reactivity. Moreover, the data bolster support for the hypothesis that greater exposure to social environmental stress during childhood may lead to potential negative health consequences in later life, for example, a more highly reactive SAM system.


Open Access



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