Heidi Tobin

University of New Hampshire



Mentor: Dr. Suzanne Mitchell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology

Does the Anticipation of a Certain Type of Stress Increase How Impulsively a Person Behaves?

Violence, in its myriad forms, has become more intense, and its consequences more virulent in American society. Sadly, these consequences evolve from impulsivity. Where does this impulsivity come from? The increasing pace of our society conditions people to react more quickly. The behavior of reacting incessantly is often referred to as impulsive behavior. The purpose of this study examined whether the anticipation of a certain type of stress (public speaking) increased impulsive decision making. Sixteen college students from the University of New Hampshire were randomly divided into two groups: reading task or speaking task. Before the participants completed the reading or speaking task they completed a computer task. The computer task required the participants to choose between smaller immediate monetary rewards (indicating high impulsivity) versus larger monetary rewards later (indicating more self-control). After the participants completed the computer task they were informed that after 20 minutes passed (anticipation period), they would complete another computer task similar to the one that they had just completed: They were also informed of the task (stressful event) that they were selected to complete. For example, if a participant was selected for the speaking task that participant was informed he or she would present a 5-minute speech about how the American government functions while being video taped. If a participant was selected for the reading task that participant was informed he or she would read a passage for 5 minutes on the same topic as the speaking task group, while being video taped. A questionnaire was used for the participants to rate the current level of stress they experienced after each task. This research will contribute significantly to our understanding impulsive behavior and how stress may influence the choices people make. If the anticipation of a type of stressful event increases impulsive behavior, then this information can help us prepare and prevent these situations from occurring.

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