Association of Alcohol Use Among College Students With Physiological Anger Levels Measured by Heart Rate Vaiability



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Negative emotions have been investigated as a possible driving force behind binge drinking on college campuses nationwide. Anger in particular has proven to have a potential influence on drinking patterns. Physiologically, anger is a detectable measure, as it can trigger a physiological stress response in the body via the sympathetic nervous system. This study uses heart rate variability (HRV) to measure autonomic nervous system modulation during a laboratory anger recall test in order to quantify an individual’s physiological state anger response. The test included a baseline period during which measures were taken at rest, neutral speaking to control for the action of speaking in the lab, anger recall in which the subject spoke aloud about an angering event, and a recovery period consisting of sitting quietly while focusing on “letting go of anger from the event.” Subjects (n=14) also filled out questionnaires regarding alcohol use and trait anger. Normalized High Frequency (HF norm) HRV significantly decreased from Baseline to Neutral Speaking (t = 3.409; p = .005), with no significant recovery during the remaining course of the test. Positive trends were observed between Trait Anger and Baseline HF norm (r = .531, p = .062) and between Baseline HF norm and “largest number of drinks consumed in one sitting in last 30 days” (r = .670; p = .017). Our study has shown that a control period is essential in anger recall tests and puts the results of other anger recall tasks into question due to the influence of environmental factors on physiological measures.

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