, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 216-222

Negative emotions and acute physiological responses to stress

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One pathway through which stressors are thought to influence physiology is through their effects on emotion. We used meta-analytic statisitical techniques with data from nine studies to test the effects of acute laboratory stressors (speech, star mirror-image tracing, handgrip) on emotional (undifferentiated negative emotion, anger, anxiety) and cardiovascular (CV) response. In all of the studies, participants responded to stressors with both increased CV response and increased negative emotion. Increases in negative emotion were associated with increases in CV response across tasks, however, these associations were small. The range of variance accounted for was between 2% and 12%. Thus, the contribution of negative emotion, as assessed in these studies, to physiological responses to acute laboratory stressors was limited. Although these results raise questions about the role of emotion in mediating stress-elicited physiological responses, the nature of the acute laboratory stress paradigm may contribute to the lack of a strong association.

Pamela Feldman and Sheldon Cohen, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University; Stephen Lepore, Department of Psychology, Brooklyn College, City University of New York; Karen Matthews, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh; Thomas Kamarck, Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh; Anna Marsland, Behavioral Medicine Program, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Preparation of this manuscript was supported, in part, by a Senior Scientist Award (K05 MH00721) for Dr. Cohen’s participation and a training grant (T32 MH19953) for Dr. Feldman’s participation from the National Institute of Mental Health.