Effects of Thematically Relevant and General Stressors on Specificity of Responding in Asthmatic and Nonasthmatic Subjects

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Twenty-nine mild asthmatics and 12 nonasthmatics were exposed to three films of varying emotional content to assess differential patterns of physiological response in the cardiac, ventilatory, and bronchial systems. Results indicated that only cardiac interbeat interval (IBI) and total respiratory resistance (Rt) were reliable indices of reactivity. In a film of thematic relevance to asthmatics which depicted asthmatic children in a hospital setting, asthmatics evidenced sustained elevation of Rt throughout the entire film with no reactivity in IBI. Nonasthmatics did not evidence any significant reactivity to the film. In a film of a generally stressful nature which depicted industrial accidents, asthmatics evidenced elevated Rt in response to the accident scenes. Both asthmatic and nonasthmatic subjects responded to the post-accident periods with increases in IBI. In a film depicting a mother giving up her child for adoption, asthmatics responded to the relinquishing of the child with elevated Rt.

These results are discussed in terms of the necessity of evolving a comprehensive theory of specificity patterns in psychosomatic disorders which goes beyond models of symptom specificity and stimulus-response specificity, neither of which can adequately account for these results. The results are further seen as supporting the utility of selecting stressors of thematic relevance to asthmatics and measuring symptom-relevant indices of physiological reactivity to isolate these specificity patterns in response to stress.

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