Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 32-41

First online:

Relation of cognitive appraisal to cardiovascular reactivity, affect, and task engagement

  • Karl J. MaierAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • , Shari R. WaldsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Maryland, Baltimore CountyDivision of Gerontology, Department of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine & Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center Email author 
  • , Stephen J. SynowskiAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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The relation of primary cognitive appraisals to cardiovascular reactivity, affect, task engagement, and perceived stress was examined in 56 men (ages 18–29). Systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), heart rate, preejection period, stroke index, cardiac index, and total peripheral resistance were assessed at rest and during performance of a computerized mental arithmetic task. Extending on prior investigations, threat and challenge appraisals were assessed independently from one another and from secondary appraisals. Positive and negative affect, task engagement, and levels of perceived stress were also assessed. Results indicated that threat (R2 = .08, p = .01), challenge (R2 = .14, p = .003), and their interaction (R2 = .11, p = .006) independently predicted DBP reactivity; DBP responses were greatest among participants with a high threat/low challenge pattern of appraisal. Threat appraisals predicted greater negative affect (R2 = .32) and perceived stress (R2 = .48), whereas challenge appraisals were related to greater positive affect (R2 = .44) and task engagement (R2 = .40, ps < .0001). Greater positive affect was correlated with increased SBP and DBP reactivity, and greater levels of task engagement with increased DBP response (ps ≤ .002). Results suggest that primary cognitive appraisals are more potent predictors of affect and task engagement than cardiovascular reactivity.