Sex differences in cardiovascular reactivity to physical appearance and performance challenges

Laura R. Stroud, Raymond S. Niaura, Catherine M. Stoney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined sex differences in cardiovascular reactivity to a novel body image speech task and to three performance-oriented challenges: serial subtraction, handgrip, and mirror tracing tasks. Forty-nine men and 64 women completed the four tasks while heart rate, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and mean arterial pressure were measured. The speech was perceived as requiring more emotionality and empathy for success, whereas the performance tasks were perceived as requiring greater competitiveness. As predicted, women showed greater heart rate reactivity to the body image speech, but men showed greater blood pressure reactivity to the subtraction, grip, and mirror tracing tasks. Results underscore the importance of contextual factors in influencing sex differences in stress responses; women may be more physiologically vulnerable to challenges in the domain of physical appearance, whereas men may react to competitive, performance-oriented challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)240-250
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Cardiovascular reactivity
  • Performance
  • Physical appearance
  • Sex differences
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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