Abstract: Correlations Between Physiological Responsivity to Stress, Anxiety Disorder Vulnerability, and Gender Differences

Hey interweb! I’m Laila, and I’m a sophomore here at the College of William & Mary. I’m a psychology major with an undecided minor (most likely Hispanic Studies or Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies). In my spare time, I enjoy running, eating brussel sprouts, and cooking meals that are far too ambitious for my minimal culinary skills. I could not be more excited to be doing my summer research with the Charles Center!

I have been working as an experimenter in the Emotional Disorders Research Group in the W&M Psychology Department this year. Our most recent project is called the Multiyear Adult Personality Project, which longitudinally assesses a freshman cohort over their undergraduate career on their demographics, personality traits, chronic stressors, and reactivity to a minor stressor in the laboratory. This summer I will analyze the relationship between participants’ physiological responses to the lab stressor, called the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), and potential risk factors that could predispose the participants to developing an anxiety disorder, as measured in the Inventory of Depression and Anxiety Symptoms questionnaire.

During the TSST, participants are asked to prepare and deliver a 4 minute speech which will be filmed and later judged by a group of their peers. Our lab analyzes participants’ heart rate (electrocardiogram) and skin perspiration (electrodermal activity) to monitor and understand their stress level during the TSST. Using correlational analyses, I will look at the association of stress reactivity, in heart rate and skin perspiration during the speech, with self-reported anxiety symptoms. I will also examine whether the gender of a participant can predict a certain physiological response to stress, as well as their risk for anxiety disorders. Society has constructed a culture of gender that I predict will affect both how people respond physiologically to stressful life events, as well as how those life events are further internalized into concrete mental health status.