Self-Focus and Cardiovascular Effects of Stressor Anticipation and Active Coping: The Moderating Influence of Trait Social Anxiety

Margit Gramer*, Stephanie Frei
Department of Psychology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria

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© 2017 Gramer and Frei.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Psychology, University of Graz, Universitätsplatz 2, A-8010 Graz, Austria, Tel: +43 316 380 5130; Fax: +43 316 380 9808; E-mail



Self-focused attention has been found to facilitate task engagement and cardiac activity in active performance situations. According to theories on self-awareness this facilitating effect might be confined to individuals with favorable outcome expectancies, though.


To provide information on this issue, the present study evaluated the moderating influence of trait social anxiety, a dispositional indicator of impaired confidence. In extension of prior research, effects of enhanced self-awareness were assessed during both anticipation and performance of an active social stressor.


Sixty normotensive female students characterized as either high or low in trait social anxiety engaged in an evaluative speaking task either in the context of high or low self-awareness.


The moderating influence of social anxiety was found to vary with type of demand. During passive stressor anticipation, self-focus augmented distress-related vascular reactivity in high but not in low socially anxious individuals. During speech preparation self-focus was found to facilitate task engagement and cardiac reactivity in low socially anxious individuals, whereas high anxious showed some withdrawal. Greater self-awareness during speech performance elicited cardiac increases in both social anxiety groups. However, among high anxious individuals this sustained engagement was accompanied by increased negative affect and negative self-evaluations.


These findings seem to suggest that only in high socially anxious individuals heightened self-awareness may contribute to dysfunctional cardiovascular and psychological processes.

Keywords: Self-focused attention, Social anxiety, Cognitive appraisals, Cardiovascular reactivity, Stressor anticipation, Active coping.