The authors present and discuss their latest academic findings from the extensive research carried out at the Department of Sociology in articles in national and international journals, books, contributions in edited volumes, working papers, etc.

Habituation of salivary cortisol and cardiovascular reactivity to a repeated real-life and virtual reality Trier Social Stress Test

Oswald D. Kothgassner, Andreas Goreis, Lisa M. Glenk, Johanna Xenia Kafka, Bettina Pfeffer, Leon Beutl, Ilse Kryspin-Exner, Helmut Hlavacs, Rupert Palme, Anna Felnhofer

BACKGROUND: Although the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) constitutes a valid paradigm for social stress induction, less is known about the effects of a virtual reality (VR) TSST on short- and long-term hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathetic-adreno-medullar (SAM) axis responses. Hence, this study set out to evaluate reactivity and habituation of self-reported stress and HPA and SAM reactivity in a real TSST and VR-TSST when compared to a placebo TSST.

METHOD: Sixty-eight healthy young adults (50% female) were randomly assigned to either a real TSST, a VR-TSST, or a placebo TSST, all of which were conducted three times (one day and one week post initial exposure). Social presence, self-reported stress, salivary cortisol, heart rate (HR), and heart rate variability (HRV) were analyzed using ANOVAs and multilevel models.

FINDINGS: On the first exposure, both the real and VR-TSST showed significantly stronger cortisol and cardiovascular responses than the placebo. On the second visit, the cortisol response was still significantly high-and the HRV response low-for the real and VR-TSST. The third visit resulted in HR, HRV, and cortisol responses comparable to the placebo group. Furthermore, the real TSST induced more self-reported stress than the placebo on all three visits, the VR-TSST only on the first two visits. Social presence was stable across conditions and had no association with stress markers.

CONCLUSION: These findings imply that the replicability of stress exposures at shorter intervals seems problematic for the traditional TSST, and for the VR-TSST.

Research Platform The Stress of Life - Processes and Mechanisms underlying Everyday Life Stress, Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Outpatient Unit for Research, Teaching and Practice, Department of Sociology, Research Group Entertainment Computing, Department for Teacher Education
External organisation(s)
Medizinische Universität Wien, Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
Physiology & Behavior
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501010 Clinical psychology
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Experimental and Cognitive Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience
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