In order to understand the complex autonomic adjustments that occur during the psychological challenges of normal daily life, autonomic responses to psychological stress were studied by evaluating the effects of body posture on various indices of sympathetic and parasympathetic regulation during performance of a psychological task. Twelve male subjects were studied in various postures (supine, sitting and standing), and during performance of the Colour Word Test (CWT) when sitting and then when standing. This procedure was subsequently repeated in reverse order (first standing and then sitting) after 15 min of supine rest. Blood samples for assay of plasma catecholamines were obtained before and during each CWT. Spectral analysis of beat-to-beat variations of heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) was applied in order to obtain non-invasive indices of sympathetic and parasympathetic regulation. HR, diastolic BP, mid-frequency band power (0.07-0.14 Hz) of HR and systolic BP, and plasma adrenaline and noradrenaline concentrations showed significant increases when changing from supine to sitting to standing posture, whereas high-frequency band power (0.15-0.50 Hz) of HR decreased in a posture-dependent fashion. In the sitting position, the CWT caused significant increases in HR, BP and plasma adrenaline levels, and decreased HR and BP variability indices. In the standing posture, the CWT responses differed significantly from those during sitting for HR (a mild decrease during standing), high-frequency band power of HR (decreased more while sitting), high-frequency band power of BP (decreased more while standing), and plasma adrenaline responses (larger during sitting). Posture-related differential effects were observed on indices of sympatho-adrenomedullary activation during performance of a psychological challenge, whereas indices of parasympathetic activity indicated primarily less vagolytic effects when the task was performed in the standing posture. Our findings therefore underline the complexity of the adjustments that occur in neurohumoral and haemodynamic parameters during the psychological challenges of daily life.

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