There is growing evidence that individuals with social anxiety show impaired cortisol recovery after experiencing social evaluative stressors. Yet, little is known regarding the cognitive processes underlying such impaired cortisol recovery. The present study examined the effect of post-event processing (PEP), referred to as repetitive thinking about social situations, on cortisol recovery following a social stressor. Forty-two non-clinical university students (23 women, 19 men, mean age = 22.0 ± 2.0 years) completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), followed by a thought sampling procedure which assessed the frequency of PEP reflecting the TSST. A growth curve model showed PEP and social anxiety interactively predicted cortisol recovery. In particular, PEP predicted impaired cortisol recovery in those with low levels of social anxiety but not in those with high levels of social anxiety, which contradicted the initial hypothesis. These findings suggest that PEP is differentially associated with cortisol recovery depending on levels of social anxiety. The possible mechanisms underlying these findings were discussed in terms of protective inhibition framework.
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