Cutting Stress Off at the Pass: Reducing Vigilance and Responsiveness to Social Threat by Manipulating Attention

  • Dandeneau S
  • Baldwin M
  • Baccus J
 et al. 
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Abstract

Personality processes relating to social perception have been shown to play a significant role in the experience of stress. In 5 studies, the authors demonstrate that early stage attentional processes influence the perception of social threat and modify the human stress response. The authors first show that cortisol release in response to a stressful situation correlates with selective attention toward social threat. Second, the authors show in 2 laboratory studies that this attentional pattern, most evident among individuals with low self-esteem, can be modified with a repetitive training task. Next, in a field study, students trained to modify their attentional pattern to reduce vigilance for social threat showed lower self-reported stress related to their final exam. In a final field study with telemarketers, the attentional training task led to increased self-esteem, decreased cortisol and perceived stress responses, higher confidence, and greater work performance. Taken together, these results demonstrate the impact of antecedent-focused strategies on the late-stage consequences of social stress.

Author-supplied keywords

  • cortisol
  • rejection
  • selective attention
  • self-esteem
  • social stress

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