The degree of cardiovascular stress responsivity and its possible implications for the onset and progression of cardiovascular pathologies seem to be linked to the individual strategy of behavioral coping with stressors. This study was designed to investigate the relationship among cardiac autonomic, endocrine and behavioral responses to real-life stress episodes. Thirty university students were exposed to two brief social challenges (stress interviews), during which the state of sympathovagal balance (time-domain indexes of heart rate variability) and a number of non-verbal behaviors were quantified. Psychometric measurements were also obtained via SPRAS questionnaire, administered just after each stress interview. Samples of saliva were collected for cortisol determination immediately prior and after the experimental session. Subjects showing higher levels of sympathetic dominance were characterized by higher scores of submissive behavior, larger cortisol increments, and higher perception of psychophysiological arousal. A clear consistency in the individual response to the two stress interviews was found, at the behavioral, physiological and psychophysiological level. Finally, the gender of the subjects did not clearly influence their stress responsivity. These results support the hypothesis of a close relationship between the degree of physiological arousal and the style of behavioral adaptation to social stressors.
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