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Focus on Physiology  April 2017
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Focus on Physiology  April 2017

Focus on Physiology
November 2017

Featured Experiment

Anticipation - Good or Bad Stress?

We all spend a lot of time waiting … in lines, for tests, for presents, at movies. We wait to pay for groceries, for that Anatomy quiz we really haven’t studied for, for birthday presents, and for that upcoming scary scene in that new horror movie.

Some of this anticipation is not the most pleasant; but other waiting certainly can be very exciting. Is there a difference in how our bodies react to different types of anticipation?
Remember the last time that you were anticipating doing a task or waiting for something to happen. Was it taking a test, giving a presentation at school, asking someone out, or getting a present you thought “may be” coming. Can remember how you felt? How did your body feel as you were waiting for this “thing” to happen? Was your heart racing? Were your palms sweating? Was your breathing getting shallower?

How did you feel when whatever you were waiting for actually happened? Did your anxiety levels go down? It is though that as soon as the anticipation of the task is over and you started doing it or it happened, then the level of tension in your body actually decreases. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that the anxious feeling produced from anticipation is always more intense during the waiting period than when the waiting is over.

Researchers have measured participants’ physiological reactivity related to giving a speech. They found that participants experienced an increase in physiological arousal, by measuring heart rate, from the baseline to the anticipation phase, but that it started going down as soon as the speech began. This heart rate also began to go down as soon as participants started talking.

Why is anxiety higher during the anticipation of something than during the actual happening? This is because anxiety is an emotion related to the future. Most people feel anxious about things that are about to happen, about the unknowns … “Will I get a good grade?” “Will he/she say yes if I ask them out?” “Will I get that new car I asked my parents for?” Conversely, we don’t feel that same level of anxiousness about the past or the present, the anticipation is over.

Having an emotion about the future might seem paradoxical since we live in the present. However, behave a certain way in the present because we want to achieve certain goals in the future. We study for an exam because we want to get good grades, we get dressed up and brush our teeth because we want to get someone’s attention, we are on our best behavior to get what we asked for from our parents. Anticipation reflects uncertainty and this turns out to be a powerful motivator of behavior. As our anticipation level of anxiety goes up, it makes us question our ability to do things, achieve goals, etc… This can be shown in clear physiological responses.

In this lab, students will measure pulse and heart rate, skin temperature and respiration rate while waiting for something to happen (perhaps waiting for a scary video clip, or virtually riding a rollercoaster and waiting for that first drop) and then after the anticipation is over. Different anticipatory video clips are included with the lab settings.

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