Sense of Control Eases Physical
Consequences During Stress
have proposed that having control of... life events can reduce an
individual’s cardiovascular disease risk," said Suzanne E.
Weinstein, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State University.
research suggests that more cardiovascular responses to stressful
events may help form the link between low control and high risk by
damaging arterial walls and encouragingatherosclerosis, according to
test the connection between control and the magnitude of cardiovascular
response, Weinstein and her colleagues asked 32 undergraduate students
to play a video game of catch. Short blasts of a mildly annoying noise
were sent through the students’ headphones as they played the
game. About half the players were told that better performance on the
game would reduce the number of noises they heard and the remaining
players were told that the noises were random.
results of cardiovascular monitoring during the games provide "perhaps
the most straightforward evidence to date" for the theory that control
over an undesirable situation while performing a task reduces its
negative effects on the cardiovascular system, according to Weinstein.
students who were led to believe that they could reduce the number of
sounds by making more catches experienced smaller increases in systolic
blood pressure and total peripheral resistance to blood flow than those
who thought they could not control the noise, Weinstein explained.
results indicate that the students who were "in control" experienced
less stress on their hearts and circulatory systems than their
results also indicate that only an illusion of control was required to
buffer cardiovascular response to what the researchers call a "mildly
aversive stimulus," according to Weinstein.
players received the same number of noise blasts, timed to follow
unsuccessful catches. However, pre- and post-game testing showed that
the students’ perceptions of how much control they had
matched what researchers told them, even after they played the game,
the findings revealed.
findings may provide insight into the relationship between control and
cardiovascular response; however, "they do not directly address the
relationship between control and cardiovascular disease," Weinstein
addition, the findings do not indicate that more control —
either real or perceived — would produce similar effects in
all situations, she added.
this experiment tested the effects of short-term control during a
four-minute game, long-term control may not have the same effect on
cardiovascular responses, the researchers noted. Also, previous
research indicates that control does not necessarily confer
cardiovascular protection when the stimuli are far more unpleasant or
the task is far more difficult than in the present study, they said.