Cerebral Regulation of Cardiovascular Functioning and Fluency among Anxious and Nonanxious Men

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Virginia Tech

This experiment investigated lateralized hemispheric regulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) among high anxious and nonanxious university undergraduate men using a novel laboratory paradigm. Specifically, this three phase paradigm entailed the administration of a verbal fluency (left frontal) and nonverbal fluency (right frontal) task with or without the threat of a painful stimulus (cold pressor) to high anxious and nonanxious participants. Thus, the cerebrums are hypothesized to be engaged in a dual-task experience requiring the regulation of the ANS and concurrent performance on the verbal or the nonverbal fluency measure. Given the literature which supports relative right hemisphere activation among anxious individuals, it was hypothesized that high anxious men would (1) demonstrate greater physiological arousal to the cold pressor, (2) perform relatively worse on nonverbal fluency measures and demonstrate greater difficulty regulating cardiovascular functioning, and (3) demonstrate relatively lower nonverbal fluency scores and increased physiological arousal when presented with the nonverbal fluency task and cold pressor stimulus simultaneously. The results are evaluated using three perspectives: Heller's (1993) hypothesis, Kinsbourne's Functional Cerebral Distance principle, and lateralized regulation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The results only partially supported the right hemisphere activation hypothesis for anxious individuals, as many of the significant results were counter to hypotheses. Specifically, high anxious men demonstrated lower verbal fluency scores and greater heart rate during the combined stimulus of the cold pressor and verbal fluency task. The data are supportive of relative anterior deactivation among high anxious men. The discussion extends the findings to present questions regarding cerebral regulation of the ANS. Future experiments which may add to the current understanding of lateralized regulation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) are suggested.

Neuropsychology, Anxiety, Hemispheric Asymmetry, Autonomic Nervous System, Fluency