Goal-setting behavior exacerbates cardiovascular responses to exam stress

K. S. Breger, J. Cooke, J. D. Scarborough, T. Huhtula, M. Frost, M. Karnopp, M. Nejad, M. C. Andresen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stress induces hormonal changes, increases blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR), decreases immune function, and increases gastrointestinal distress. Physiological and psychological responses to stress differ between individuals and are affected by gender, exercise, eating and sleep habits, caffeine use, and relationship status. This study assessed how goal setting behavior affects the cardiovascular responses to stress. We investigated the BP and HR responses of 38 first-year medical students to scheduled examinations in the medical physiology course. We employed a survey assessing individual academic goals and whether goal-oriented aspirations altered the cardiovascular responses to stress. In addition, the survey qualitatively assessed several social habits of the participants which have been suggested as influential in stress responses. Exam stress increased (p<.05) the systolic BP (2.2±0.8mmHg), mean arterial pressure (4.0±1.3mmHg), and HR (8.0±1.4bpm) compared to non-exam days. The change in diastolic BP (1.4±0.8mmHg) was not significant (p>.05). The greatest increase in exam day HR occurred in those students who self-reported wanting to achieve Honors (H) (8.2bpm). In conclusion, this study shows that even in healthy, young adults, goal setting behavior augments acute stress levels as measured by the cardiovascular markers of heart rate and blood pressure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8A
JournalJournal of Investigative Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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