Difficulty and Instrumentality of Imminent Behavior as Determinants of Cardiovascular Response and Self-Reported Energy


  • The research reported in this article was carried out while the senior author was visiting on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. We would like to thank Jack W. Brehm and Richard J. Contrada for comments on an earlier draft of the paper.

Address requests for reprints to: Rex Wright, Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, UAB Station, Birmingham, AL 35294.


College-aged male subjects were presented with an easy or moderately difficult memorization task and were told that they could earn either a very low or a very high chance of obtaining a modest prize if they did well. Cardiovascular (heart rate, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure) and subjective measures were taken during an interval immediately preceding the task performance period. Results indicated greater systolic blood pressure and self-perceived energy in the moderately difficult condition than in the easy condition only when the probability of attaining the prize (if subjects did well) was high. When the probability of goal attainment (given success) was low, systolic responses and self-reported energy levels were minimal in both task conditions. Predictions regarding the impact of energy levels upon goal attractiveness ratings were not supported, possibly for methodological reasons.