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Sense of control eases physical toll of stressful situation

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  • Ian Pitchford
    Release Date: Aug. 31, 2002 SENSE OF CONTROL EASES PHYSICAL TOLL OF STRESSFUL SITUATION ... Believing that you have control over a moderately stressful
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2002
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      Release Date: Aug. 31, 2002



      Believing that you have control over a moderately stressful situation may make
      it less potentially damaging to your heart and circulatory system, a new study

      "Investigators have proposed that having control of . life events can reduce an
      individual's cardiovascular disease risk," explains lead author Suzanne E.
      Weinstein, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State University, writing in the journal
      Psychophysiology. Previous research, she notes, suggests that more exaggerated
      cardiovascular responses to stressful events may help forge the link between
      low control and high risk by damaging arterial walls and encouraging

      To test the connection between control and the magnitude of cardiovascular
      response, Weinstein and her colleagues asked 32 undergraduate students to play
      a video game of catch. As the students played, they received short blasts of a
      mildly annoying noise through headphones. About half the players were told that
      better performance on the game would reduce the number of noises; the remaining
      players were told that the blasts were random.

      The results of cardiovascular monitoring during the games provide what
      Weinstein deems "perhaps the most straightforward evidence to date" for the
      theory that control over an undesirable stimulus while performing a task
      reduces its negative effects on the cardiovascular system.

      Those students who were led to believe that they could reduce the number of
      annoying sounds by making more catches experienced smaller increases in
      systolic blood pressure and total peripheral resistance to blood flow than
      those who believed they could not control the noise.

      Both measures indicate that the students who were supposedly "in control"
      experienced less stress on their hearts and circulatory systems than did their
      presumably "out-of-control" counterparts, even though they were performing an
      identical task.

      The results also indicate, Weinstein notes, that only an illusion of control
      was required to buffer cardiovascular response to what the researchers call a
      "mildly aversive stimulus."

      In reality, all players received the same number of noise blasts, timed to
      follow unsuccessful catches. Yet pre- and post-game testing revealed that
      students' perceptions of how much control they had matched what the researchers
      told them - even after they played the game.

      Although the findings may provide valuable insight into the relationship
      between control and cardiovascular response, Weinstein cautions that "they do
      not directly address the relationship between control and cardiovascular
      disease." Nor do they indicate that more control - either real or perceived -
      would produce similar effects in all situations.

      For one thing, they researchers observe, this experiment tested the effects of
      short-term control during a four-minute game; long-term control may not have
      the same buffering effect on cardiovascular responses. Also, previous research
      indicates that control does not necessarily confer cardiovascular protection
      when the stimuli are far more unpleasant or the task is far more difficult than
      in the present study.

      Funding for the study was provided by Pennsylvania State University and the
      National Institutes of Health.

      # # #
      Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.
      Interviews: Contact Andrea Messer at (814) 865-9481 or aeml@....
      Psychophysiology: Contact Gregory A. Miller, Ph.D., at (217) 333-6312.

      Center for the Advancement of Health
      Contact: Ira R. Allen
      Director of Public Affairs

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