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J Adolesc Health. 2002 Apr;30(4 Suppl):14-21.

Boys' and girls' responses to stress: affect and heart rate during a speech task.

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Division of Child Psychiatry and Child Development, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305-5719, USA.



To examine gender differences in heart rate and reports of negative and positive affect among adolescents during a speech task.


Subjects were 133 adolescents, 73 girls and 60 boys, ages 14-18 years. Subjects were randomly assigned to speak for 10 minutes and asked either to free associate or to describe the most stressful event in their lives. Their heart rate was assessed at baseline and at 5 and 10 minutes after the task began. Self-ratings of negative and positive affect were assessed at baseline and at 10 minutes after the beginning of the task. Data were analyzed by Student's t-tests for independent samples, analyses of covariance, and Spearman rank-order correlation coefficients.


Girls rated their negative affect significantly higher at baseline in comparison to boys. In addition, girls had a higher baseline heart rate. However, boys' increase in heart rate 5 minutes into the speech task was significantly greater than that of girls. Also, the free association task elicited significantly greater increases in heart rate compared to a task in which the adolescent described his or her most stressful life event. However, the stressful event task elicited greater negative and less positive affect. Significant relationships between change in heart rate and ratings of post-task affect were found among girls but not among boys, suggesting that the girls' ratings of their affect are more congruent with their physiological reactions to a stressful speech task.


These results suggest that gender and task differences must be considered in assessing adolescents' stress.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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