Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of Psychology


Clinical Psychology

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, 45 pages) : illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Elana Gordis

Committee Members

Betty Lin


Stress in youth, Social networks, Youth and violence, Violent crimes, Sympathetic nervous system

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology


Research indicates that asymmetry between biological stress response systems is associated with psychological and physiological problems, which negatively affect child development. Asymmetry between these systems is common following childhood exposure to adversity. Furthermore, research shows that social support may act as a buffer against negative effects of stress, specifically for girls. The present study examines the role of social support in the relationship between biological systems among a sample of 49 youth (ages 9-12) with high levels of exposure to community violence. We measured perceived social support within the youth and exposed them to an in-lab psychosocial stressor. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis) reactivity was indexed by salivary cortisol while sympathetic nervous system (SNS) reactivity was indexed via salivary alpha-amylase (sAA). A two-way interaction between social support and sAA reactivity accounted for unique variance in cortisol reactivity. Furthermore, a three-way interaction between gender, social support, and sAA reactivity accounted for unique variance in cortisol reactivity. Results suggest that social support may buffer against negative physiological changes associated with childhood adversity (i.e., asymmetry between HPA-axis and SNS), and may be a particularly important buffer for girls. These findings have important clinical implications and future research should continue to examine social support as a buffer in this way.