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Does Unconscious Stress Play a Role in Prolonged Cardiovascular Stress Recovery?



According to recent insights, humans might not be aware of a substantial part of their cognitive stress representations while these still have prolonged physiological effects. ‘Unconscious stress’ can be measured by implicit affect (IA) tests. It was shown that IA predicts physiological stress responses, in fact better than explicit (‘conscious’) affect. It is not known yet whether IA is associated with concurrent prolonged stress responses.

In two studies (n = 62 and 123), anger harassment was used to induce stress. Blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) were measured continuously. During BP and HR recovery, IA was measured by an ‘anger’ version of the implicit association test (IAT) or the implicit positive and negative affect test (IPANAT).

Blood pressure and HR increased during anger harassment and recovery afterwards. When using the IPANAT BP recovery levels were lower when positive IA was high and higher when negative IA was high, independent of explicit affect and rumination. These results were not found using the IAT.

These results provide preliminary evidence that physiological stress recovery is associated with IA. This is in line with the theory that unconscious stress is responsible for a—possibly considerable—part of unhealthy prolonged stress-related physiological activity. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.