University of Rhode Island
Psychology & Communications
Mentor: Dr. Suzanne H. Mitchell, Professor of Psychology
Cardiovascular Responses to Acute Behavioral Stressors
The purpose of this research was to examine the relationship between cardiovascular responses and different acute behavioral stressors. Researchers are interested in stress because of its potential relationship with various conditions such as cardiovascular disease, psychological problems, and immune system complications. The participants were 12 students at the University of New Hampshire (4 males and 8 females). When participants arrived at the laboratory, they rested quietly for fifteen minutes to habituate to the testing environment (first resting baseline). They were then exposed to three different stressors. These stressors were public speaking, noise-during-reading, and the cold pressor test.
The public speaking stressor required that the subjects engage in a spontaneous monologue for 2 minutes either about how a bill becomes a law or about the structure of the United States government. The noise-during-reading stressor required the subjects to read a passage from the Graduate Record Examination. While participants were reading the passage, unpredictable loud noises were played into headphones worn by the participants. After participants had read the passage, they were asked to answer questions pertaining to the passage. The cold pressor test required that subjects immerse their dominant hand up to their wrist in a 2-4ºC water bath for two minutes. Immediately after each stressor, subjects rated how stressful the task was on a scale of 0-10 ('0=not at all', '10=the most stressful event I've ever experienced'). Between each stressor, subjects rested for 5 minutes (between-stressor resting baseline). We recorded the systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and the heart rate continuously. These recordings were used to calculate the change in these three variables from the resting baselines to the period during the stressor.
Preliminary results indicate that the participants' blood pressure and heart rate increased from baseline to the periods during each of the three stressors. However, the relationship between participants' ratings of stressfulness of the stressors and the magnitude of those increases has yet to be detremined. Also to be determined is whether a participant's strong reaction to one stressor is an indication of their being highly reactive to other stressors. Additional data analyses will reveal the answers to these questions.