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Leadership Inversely Associated With Stress Levels

Last Updated: September 24, 2012.

Leaders have lower levels of cortisol and lower reports of anxiety, with a dose-response association seen for levels of leadership, which seems to be mediated by a sense of control, according to a study published online Sept. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

MONDAY, Sept. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Leaders have lower levels of cortisol and lower reports of anxiety, with a dose-response association seen for levels of leadership, which seems to be mediated by a sense of control, according to a study published online Sept. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gary D. Sherman, Ph.D., from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues investigated the correlation between stress levels and leadership using unique samples of real leaders, including military officers and government officials. Salivary cortisol was assessed and anxiety reports were examined for leaders to examine the differences between leaders and non-leaders, and within a group of leaders.

The researchers found that, compared with non-leaders, leaders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower reports of anxiety. Leaders who held more powerful positions had lower cortisol levels and reported less anxiety compared with those holding less powerful positions. The inverse association seen between leadership level and anxiety was mediated by sense of control.

"These findings build on research regarding social rank in nonhuman primates to provide a clear answer to the question of whether leadership, in humans, is associated with higher or lower levels of physiological and psychological stress," the authors write. "Leaders possess a particular psychological resource -- a sense of control -- that may buffer against stress."

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