Vulnerability to Stress: Self-Criticism and Stress-Induced Changes In Biochemistry


  • This work was supported by NIH Biomedical Research Support Grant 2-S07-RR-07062-26 to Rand J. Gruen and NIMH Mental Health Clinical Research Center Grant MH-08618 to Arnold J. Friedhoff. We would like to thank John Daws for statistical advice and Stacey Greenwald for help in conducting the study.

Address correspondence to Rand J. Gruen, Department of Psychiatry, New York University, 550 First Avenue, HN507, New York, NY 10016.


ABSTRACT It has been hypothesized that individuals who are high on the attribute of self-criticism are particularly vulnerable to failure stress. To test this hypothesis, we examined the relationship between self-criticism and changes in plasma homovanillic acid (HVA; the metabolite of dopamine) and emotion during exposure to an induced-failure task. Participants consisted of 21 women. Plasma HVA and emotion were assessed at three time points: baseline (T1), during stress exposure (T2), and 40 minutes after cessation of the stressor (T3). We found that self-criticism was significantly and positively related to changes in plasma HVA during stress exposure. In addition, the personality attribute was significantly and positively related to subjective ratings of stress and changes in scores on the Confusion-Bewilderment scale of the Profile of Mood States during the task. To our knowledge, this is the first study to report that self-criticism is related to stress-induced changes in biochemistry.