Stress effects on mood, HPA axis, and autonomic response: Comparison of three psychosocial stress paradigms

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Extensive experimental psychology research has attempted to parse the complex relationship between psychosocial stress, mood, cognitive performance, and physiological changes. To do so, it is necessary to have effective, validated methods to experimentally induce psychosocial stress. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) is the most commonly used method of experimentally inducing psychosocial stress, but it is resource intensive. Less resource intense psychosocial stress tasks include the Socially Evaluative Cold Pressor Task (SECPT) and a computerized mental arithmetic task (MAT). These tasks effectively produce a physiological and psychological stress response and have the benefits of requiring fewer experimenters and affording data collection from multiple participants simultaneously. The objective of this study was to compare the magnitude and duration of these three experimental psychosocial stress induction paradigms. On each of four separate days, participants completed either a control non-stressful task or one of the three experimental stressors: the TSST, SECPT, or MAT. We measured mood, working memory performance, salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase (AA), and heart rate. The TSSTand SECPTexerted the most robust effects on mood and physiological measures. TSST effects were generally evident immediately post-stress as well as 10- and 20-minutes after stress cessation, whereas SECPT effects were generally limited to the duration of the stressor. The stress duration is a key determinant when planning a study that utilizes an experimental stressor, as researchers may be interested in collecting dependent measures prior to stress cessation. In this way, the TSST would allow the investigator a longer window to administer tasks of interest.




Giles, G. E., Mahoney, C. R., Brunyé, T. T., Taylor, H. A., & Kanarek, R. B. (2014). Stress effects on mood, HPA axis, and autonomic response: Comparison of three psychosocial stress paradigms. PLoS ONE, 9(12).

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