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Title: Psychosocial factors and physiological responsivity : studies of stress-related processes
Author: Wright, Caroline Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0001 2419 5891
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2006
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The theory of allostatic load suggests that in certain individuals cumulative strain could lead to physiological dysregulation and impaired health. This thesis presents a series of four studies investigating novel aspects of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine stress-mechanisms across the adult age spectrum. Studies 1 and 2 involved a community sample of 139 adults aged 65-80 years. In Study 1, the relationship between Cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure responsivity and performance of cognitive tasks was assessed. It was found that low Cortisol responsivity and better cardiovascular recovery were related to superior memory performance but not to variations in reasoning task performance, suggesting a specific association with memory. Study 2 investigated psychosocial factors associated with Cortisol regulation in everyday life. It was found that gender and low socioeconomic status were independently related to Cortisol responses to waking. Study 3 explored whether biological stress responsivity precedes ill-health in those most at risk. 103 young adults were exposed to laboratory stress tasks, and data were collected on cardiovascular, Cortisol and interleukin (IL) 6 responses. Participants' parents provided information on family history, and a two- generation, family history risk score was computed. Results indicate that participants with a positive family history of cardiovascular disease had greater blood pressure responses to the tasks, and that this relationship was independent of their own cardiovascular, smoking and weight status. An association between family risk and IL-6 responses was also observed. The results suggest that aberrant patterns of stress reactivity are present in young people at risk before the onset of any health problems in themselves. The final study explored the bidirectional nature of the relationship between physiological responsivity and psychological functioning by investigating the effects of an inflammatory stimulus (typhoid vaccination) in a double-blind, placebo- control design. The results indicated that increases in IL-6 were correlated with negative mood induction. The findings of these studies have implications for understanding the contribution of stress-related processes to health.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available