Psychophysiology: Human Behavior and Physiological Response

By John L. Andreassi | Go to book overview

13
Heart Activity and Behavior II: Stress, Emotions, Motivation, Personality, Social Factors, Brain Interactions, and Conditioning

This chapter examines the question of whether differential heart activity occurs in various emotional situations. It also covers the effects of stress, motivational state, personality, and social factors on changes in heart rate. Cardiac reactivity, or how much of a change in HR occurs from baseline to a task situation, is another important aspect examined in this chapter. In addition, questions about interactions between heart and brain activity and the classical and instrumental conditioning of cardiac activity are also reviewed. We start with a consideration of stress, anger, frustration, and fear as affective processes.


HEART RATE AND AFFECTIVE PROCESSES

Affective processes, as considered here, include HR changes that have been recorded in situations likely to produce emotional reactions in people. Some situations that qualify are those that involve stressors, fear, anger, frustration, competition, and motivation.


Stress

Research on cardiovascular responses to stressors is currently an active area. The approaches are interesting and consider factors such as whether an individual copes actively or passively with a stressor, the type of task, parental history of cardiovascular disease, and personality factors, such as the Type A/B dichotomy. Many studies examine systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as HR changes (for this reason they are discussed in chapter 14 on Blood Pressure and Behavior).

There are a number of experiments that have used electric shock as a stressor and examined heart activity in response to the shock itself or in anticipation of the shock. Elliott ( 1974) reviewed several studies that showed a decrease in HR just prior to the shock. However, he pointed out that the change was a phasic one; that is, it occurred in the few seconds before the stressful stimulus. Elliott observed that when one looks at the longer-term (tonic) effects, say over a period of minutes, HR increases occur under threat of an electric shock. An example of a short-term (phasic) decrease in HR is a result obtained by Obrist, Webb, and Sutterer ( 1969), in which deceleration took place in anticipation of a "very painful" electric shock. On the other hand, tonic acceleration was reported by Deane ( 1969), who told subjects that they would receive a shock at a specific point in a sequence of numbers. Interestingly, Deane's

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