Differential heart rate reactivity and recovery after psychosocial stress (TSST) in healthy children, younger adults, and elderly adults: The impact of age and gender

  • Brigitte M. KudielkaEmail author
  • Angelika Buske-Kirschbaum
  • Dirk H. Hellhammer
  • Clemens Kirschbaum


In addition to numerous reports about psychophysiological stress responses to acute stressors, there are few data available on gender differences of stress-induced heart rate responses in multiple age groups applying the same psychological stressor. Second, the assessment of poststress recovery appears to be neglected in the empirical literature. For this study, data from 5 independent studies were reanalyzed to investigate the impact of age and gender on heart rate responses and poststress recovery to a standardized psychosocial stress task (Trier Social Stress Test; TSST) in 28 children, 34 younger adults, and 26 older adults.

As expected, prestressor baselines correlated significantly with chronological age (r = -.27, p = .01). There was a marked age-related decrease in the heart rate stress response (p = .0003) with children and younger adults showing significantly higher increases than elderly persons. The analysis of gender effects showed that girls had higher heart rate increases during the stress exposure than boys (p = .03). In younger adults, stress responsivity was also higher in women (p = .03). Peak heart rate responses were comparable in older men and women, with only men returning to prestressor baselines during the observation period.

In sum, this reanalysis revealed differential heart rate responses and recovery after exposition to the TSST in healthy children, younger adults, and elderly adults.

Key words

heart rate age gender psychosocial stress reactivity recovery Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) 


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Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brigitte M. Kudielka
    • 1
    Email author
  • Angelika Buske-Kirschbaum
    • 2
  • Dirk H. Hellhammer
    • 2
  • Clemens Kirschbaum
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral SciencesSwiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), TUR1ZürichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Clinical and Theoretical PsychobiologyUniversity of TrierTrierGermany
  3. 3.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany

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