Patterns of Autonomic Response During Laboratory Stressors

Michael T. Allen, Michael D. Crowell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


The present study was designed to include an index reflecting the influence of parasympathetic nervous system activity on the heart, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, in addition to measures reflecting primarily sympathetic nervous system activity. The inclusion of the parasympathetic index was considered important for two reasons: (a) Past studies have suggested different patterns of autonomic response to qualitatively different laboratory stressors but have had to infer parasympathetic influences more indirectly, and (b) there is evidence that borderline hypertensives may have reduced vagal tone at rest when compared to normotensives. This last point is important for the study of individual differences in cardiovascular reactivity because excessive responsiveness in young normotensives (beta‐adrenergic reactors) has been suggested as a model for studying the precursors of some types of hypertension. Fifty‐one male college students were given a reaction time task, a mental arithmetic task, a cold pressor task, and graded bicycle exercise. A variety of cardiovascular and respiratory measures were collected on each subject. Results indicated significant differences in levels of respiratory sinus arrhythmia during the three tasks and the rest period, giving additional evidence for parasympathetic differences (along with sympathetic differences) in these conditions. Additionally, high beta‐adrenergic reactors did not differ in mean level of respiratory sinus arrhythmia from low reactors either at rest or during the task periods. These results are discussed in the context of previous research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-614
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1989


  • Cardiovascular response
  • Impedance cardiography
  • Parasympathetic nervous system
  • Respiratory response
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia
  • Spectral analysis
  • Sympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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