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Physiological reactivity involves bodily changes in response to stressful stimuli or events. The classic features of physiological reactivity are increases in sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) activity, often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response (Cannon, 1932). These responses include increases in heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac contractility, and cortisol. Changes in parasympathetic nervous system activity, immune function (Cacioppo, 1994), and non-HPA endocrine function (Taylor et al., 2000) can also occur. For reactivity to serve as a meaningful metric, stress responses must be compared to an unstressed resting state, or baseline, to control for wide individual differences in resting levels (Jennings et al., 1992). Physiological reactivity is most often assessed in response to acute stressors on the order of minutes (Steptoe & Vögele, 1991).
References and Readings
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