Physiological stress reactions in 6th and 9th graders during test performance

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Forty-six randomly selected 6th and 9th graders volunteered for an extra-curricular school test (relaxation-reading-relaxation-mathematics-relaxation) with simultaneous registration of heart rate, peripheral vasoconstriction, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, exhalation carbon dioxide (CO2) and CO2 in residual expiratory air. Results were compared with previously reported saliva cortisol levels before and after test.

Oxygen saturation before test was higher than on all other occasions. A successive increase in peripheral vasoconstriction was observed. Comparisons were made between students, sensitive to test performance stress (worry group) and the others. The worry group showed a higher level of peripheral vasoconstriction through the whole test procedure. During reading the worry group showed decreased peripheral vasoconstriction.

There was a positive correlation between oxygen saturation during mathematics test and cortisol levels after test situation.

Oxygen saturation is not an easily interpreted stress indicator, since it reflects increased saturation due to anticipated demands as well as increased consumption due to increased efforts imposed by the stressors. At certain key points of time and at group comparisons, however, illustrative changes may be observed. Peripheral vasoconstriction, however, seems to reflect the on-going demands in a more easily interpreted way as a response to continued sympathetic activation. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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