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J Behav Med. 2000 Feb;23(1):73-94.

Life event exposure, physiological reactivity, and psychological strain.

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  • 1Division of Psychology, University of Derby, UK.


The study tested the prediction that the experience of life events would be reflected in greater autonomic reactivity and that this might play a moderating role between reported stress and psychological symptoms. Eighty-seven undergraduates were screened with a life events scale and thirty-nine were allocated to three groups representing high, medium, and low life event scores. The General Health Questionnaire, Profile of Mood States, the Spielberger Trait Anxiety Scale, and the Marlowe-Crowne Scale were administered. Electrodermal activity and heart rate were recorded during an habituation series of tones and a digit-symbol substitution task. The groups differed both on the GHQ and the POMS and, also, in their physiological responses to the tones. Unexpectedly, the high life event group, compared to the other groups, appeared to display smaller physiological responses. The cognitive task resulted in elevated physiological activity but no consistent group differences. Cardiovascular reactivity moderated the relationship between life event scores and reported distress. These findings are discussed in relation to theories of psychophysiological adaptation to negative events.

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