Published:  2020-03-01

The short Sing-a-Song Stress Test: A practical and valid test of autonomic responses induced by social-evaluative stress

Authors:  D. J. van der Mee, Q. Duivestein, M. J. Gevonden, J. H. D. M. Westerink, E. J. C. de Geus

Tags:  Affect, Parasympathetic nervous system, Sing-a-Song Stress Test, Social-evaluative stress, Sympathetic nervous system

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The Sing-a-Song Stress Test (SSST) was recently developed as an alternative to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) to investigate autonomic nervous system responses to social-evaluative stress. In the SSST, participants are suddenly cued to sing a song in the presence of confederates. However, the SSST is still quite long (~15 min) and the requirement for confederates makes it labor-intensive. The current study tested whether a shorter (~6.5 min), single-experimenter, version of the SSST can still reliably elicit subjective and physiological stress reactivity. Our sample consisted of 87 healthy young adult participants (age range: 18–35 years). During the short SSST and a speeded reaction time task, in which aversive loud tones were to be avoided (TA), we measured heart period (HP), sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity using pre-ejection-period (PEP), skin conductance level (SCL), and non-specific skin conductance responses (ns.SCR), and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity using respiratory-sinus-arrhythmia (RSA) and the root-mean-square of successive differences (RMSSD). The short SSST induced significant decreases in positive affect and increases in negative affect. MANOVAs on the clusters of SNS and PNS variables showed that the short SSST elicited significant HP (−118.46 ms), PEP (−7.76 ms), SCL (+4.85 μS), ns.SCR (+8.42 peaks/min) and RMSSD (−14.67) reactivity. Affective, SNS, and PNS reactivity to the new SSST social-evaluative stress task were of comparable magnitude to that evoked by the TA mental stressor. We conclude that the short SSST is a valid and cost-effective task for large scaled studies to induce social-evaluative stress to a sufficient degree to evoke measurable changes in PNS and SNS activity and affective state.