Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Kathleen E. Lawler

Committee Members

James Lawler, Debora Baldwin, David Bassett


Stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity has traditionally been viewed as negative or harmful. However, there is increasing evidence that this conception of reactivity may be too simplistic and that, in some instances, certain patterns of reactivity may actually be adaptive. A number of recent investigations indicate that different cognitive appraisals of the same situation may be associated with different hemodynamic response patterns. Specifically, there is evidence that individuals who appraise a stressor as a challenge may display a response pattern characterized by increased myocardial reactivity (e.g., cardiac output) and decreased vascular resistance, while individuals who appraise the stressor as a threat display a vascular or mixed pattern (e.g., increased vascular resistance and moderate myocardial reactivity). Furthermore, based on evidence that challenge appraisals may be associated with greater effort and performance, as well as less stress and greater perceived performance than threat appraisals, it has been suggested that the hemodynamic pattern associated with challenge may be adaptive, while the pattern associated with threat may be maladaptive. In the present study, we manipulated threat and challenge appraisals of a mental arithmetic task and then assessed heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac output and total peripheral resistance responses to that task, as well as state affect, task-involvement and perceived and actual effort and performance, in a sample of 60 male undergraduates. These responses were then assessed for a second math task, following performance feedback. Cardiovascular recovery following the stressors was also assessed. Despite displaying greater challenge appraisal, less threat appraisal, greater task-involvement and greater perceived and actual effort and performance than the Threat group, the Challenge group did not differ from the Threat group in state affect or cardiovascular reactivity. The Challenge group also tended to display poorer cardiac output recovery following both tasks, but better vascular resistance recovery following the second task than the Threat group. Findings are interpreted as either supporting a "nonspecific" stress-response model, or as resulting from some common underlying emotion(s) or the specific response-eliciting properties of the stressor. Health implications are discussed, as well as issues pertaining to the definition and manipulation of threat and challenge appraisals.

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