Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

Kristen Salomon, Ph. D.

Keywords

Parasympathetic nervous system, Cardiovascular reactivity, Stress, Autonomic nervous system, Family history, Respiratory sinus arrhythmia

Abstract

Exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity and impaired recovery to psychological stress is independently related to cardiovascular disease (CVD), and may play a causal role in its development. I examined autonomic reactivity and recovery in 136 black, white, and Hispanic women who were predisposed to CVD, as indicated by a positive family history (FH+). Pre-ejection period (PEP; sympathetic) and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; parasympathetic) were measured during public speaking, mental arithmetic, and cold pressor tasks. Overall, FH+ participants exhibited greater RSA reactivity, while black participants exhibited impaired RSA recovery. These findings suggest that a hereditary predisposition for CVD is related to altered autonomic reactivity before any differences in resting levels are observed. Further, black participants did not exhibit a RSA rebound after the stress tasks, a key component in buffering the damaging effects of exaggerated sympathetic reactivity. These findings demonstrate the importance of examining parasympathetic activity in addition to sympathetic reactivity measures.

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