The Effects of Life Events on Cardiovascular Reactivity to Behavioral Stressors As a Function of Socioeconomic Status, Ethnicity, and Sex

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ObjectiveThe purposes of this study were 1) to examine the effects of stressful life events on cardiovascular reactivity to acute laboratory stressors in youth and 2) to determine whether these effects varied as a function of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and/or sex.MethodsFour hundred eighty-three youths (mean age = 16.7 years; 249 Caucasian Americans [126 males, 123 females] and 234 African Americans [109 males, 125 females]) completed the Adolescent Resources Challenge Scale (ARCS), a measure of stressful life events, and underwent two laboratory stressors (a car-driving simulation and the Social Competence Interview) during which blood pressure, heart rate, cardiac output, and total peripheral resistance were assessed.ResultsYouths who reported high levels of stressful life events showed smaller increases in blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) and heart rate to the car-driving simulation but larger increases in cardiac output in response to the Social Competence Interview than did youths who reported low levels of stressful life events. The effect of stressful life events on cardiovascular reactivity was not moderated by sex, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Higher family socioeconomic status was associated with greater blood pressure, heart rate, and cardiac output increases in response to the Social Competence Interview.ConclusionsThe attenuating effects of stressful life events on cardiovascular reactivity in response to car-driving simulation in youths are consistent with an inoculation effect, whereas the potentiating impact of stressful life events on reactivity observed during the social stressor interview is compatible with a possible cost of coping effect.

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