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The differential effects of harassment and sex on cardiovascular and salivary cortisol stress reactivity and recovery Earle, Tracey Lynn


To explore the differential effects of harassment on cardiovascular and neuroendocrine stress reactivity and recovery, 28 males and 32 females were randomized to a harassment or no-harassment control condition (4 groups in total). The harassment consisted of 3 scripted statements delivered during performance of a mental arithmetic stress task. The harassing statements were delivered on a fixed schedule during the task by a same-sexed experimenter. Cardiovascular, salivary Cortisol and subjective state affect measures were taken at baseline, immediately post-task and throughout an extended recovery period. On all measures it was found that subjects in the harassed condition exhibited larger stress reactivity responses compared to the non-harassed subjects. The harassed males showed the largest reactivity in the physiological measures, as well as significant changes on subjective measures. Compared to the harassed males, the harassed females showed a more pronounced response on the subjective state affect measure of hostility, and a smaller, but still significant cardiovascular reactivity response. The only cardiovascular index to show significant changes for any of the subjects was systolic blood pressure (SBP); diastolic blood pressure and heart rate showed similar trends as SBP, but did not quite reach statistical significance. The harassed males were the only group to show significant Cortisol responses. Sex differences during the recovery periods were observed: the harassed males exhibited attenuated cardiovascular and Cortisol recovery, while females, overall tended to exhibited an over-compensation response on cardiovascular measures. It may be that cardiovascular and Cortisol sex differences in reactivity to emotional stressors, and recovery from, them indicate sex-specific pathways which may link negative affect (i.e., hostile or angry feelings) to development of cardiovascular disease.

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