Exploring the possible mechanisms of blunted cardiac reactivity to acute psychological stress



Brindle RC, Whittaker AC, Bibbey A, Carroll D & Ginty AT (2017) Exploring the possible mechanisms of blunted cardiac reactivity to acute psychological stress. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 113, pp. 1-7.

Blunted cardiovascular reactivity to acute psychological stress has been linked to a range of adverse health and behavioral outcomes. However, the origins of blunted reactivity remain unclear. The current study aimed to explore the following possibilities: different appraisals of task stressfulness and/or difficulty, diminished task effort, or reduced physiological capacity to respond. Individuals characterized, via pre-screening, as blunted (n = 17) or exaggerated (n = 16) heart rate (HR) reactors to acute psychological stress (socially evaluative mental arithmetic) were exposed to a psychological stress, cold pressor and exercise tasks during a follow-up testing session while HR and blood pressure (BP) were measured. At follow-up, groups again mounted significantly different HR reactions to psychological stress, despite reporting similar levels of subjective stress and difficulty, and achieving similar tasks scores (measure of task effort) at both testing sessions. In response to the cold pressor and exercise blunted and exaggerated reactors displayed similar HR and BP responses. Results indicated that blunted reactors do not differ from exaggerated reactors on appraisals of task stressfulness or difficulty, or objective task effort, and do possess the physiological capacity to respond to other laboratory challenges. Other sources of blunted stress reactivity remain to be explored.

Stress; Cardiovascular reactivity; Perceptions; Blunted; Exaggerated

International Journal of Psychophysiology: Volume 113

FundersAXA Research Fund, Economic and Social Research Council and University of Birmingham
Publication date31/03/2017
Publication date online30/12/2016
Date accepted by journal28/12/2016
PublisherElsevier BV

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Professor Anna Whittaker

Professor Anna Whittaker

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Sport