This study investigated the relation between mere observation, the gender of a confederate observer and cardiovascular reactivity to two laboratory challenges, a math task and verbal anagrams, in both individuals with high and low social fear (e.g. fear of negative evaluation). Forty-eight undergraduate males completed the Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale and were categorized as either high or low social fear based on a median split. Sixteen subjects were tested alone, 16 subjects were observed by a male confederate during task performance and 16 subjects were observed by a female confederate during task performance. Cardiovascular measures of heart rate and blood pressure were measured during both tasks and intervening rest periods. Results revealed subjects with high social fear exhibited higher heart rate reactions to the math task and higher diastolic blood pressure reactions to the anagram challenge than low social fear participants, but only when observed by a female confederate. In addition, participants in the male and female observation conditions exhibited greater SBP responses to the anagram task than participants in the alone condition. No group differences on task performance were observed. Cardiovascular reactivity to the two tasks used in this study was impacted by both contextual laboratory factors (i.e. gender of observer) and dispositional attributes of the participant (i.e. social fear).
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