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Title: The fear-factor stress test: an ethical, non-invasive laboratory method that produces consistent and sustained cortisol responding in men and women
Author(s): Christopher du Plooy, Kevin G. F. Thomas, Michelle Henry, Robyn Human and W. Jake Jacobs
Journal: Metab Brain Dis
Year: 2014
Month: January
Day: 17
Volume: 29
Pages: 385–394
DOI: 10.1007/s11011-014-9484-9
File URL: vuams-pubs/du_Plooy_2014.pdf
Keywords: Cold Pressor Test (CPT),Cortisol,Hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, Physiological stressor, Psychosocial stressor, TrierSocialStressTest (TSST)
Abstract: We describe a method to administer a controlled, effective stressor to humans in the laboratory. The method combines the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and the Cold Pressor Test into a single, believable procedure called the Fear- Factor Stress Test (FFST). In the procedure, participants imag- ine auditioning for the reality television show Fear Factor. They stand before a video recorder and a panel of judges while (a) delivering a motivational speech, (b) performing a verbal arithmetic task, and (c) placing one hand into a bucket of ice water for up to 2 min. We measured subjective anxiety, heart rate, and salivary cortisol in three groups of young adults (n=30 each, equal numbers of men and women): FFST, TSST, and Control (a placebo version of the FFST). Although the FFST and TSST groups were not distinguishable at the cortisol measure taken 5 min post-manipulation, at 35 min postmanipulation average cortisol levels in the TSST group had returned to baseline, whereas those in the FFST group continued to rise. The proportion of individual cortisol responders (? 2 nmol/l increase over baseline) in the TSST and FFST groups did not differ at the 5-min measure, but at the 35- min measure the FFST group contained significantly more responders. The findings indicate that the FFST induces a more robust and sustained cortisol response (which we assume is a marker of an HPA-axis response) than the TSST, and that it does so without increasing participant discomfort or incurring appreciably greater resource and time costs.

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