Inducing unconscious stress: Subliminal anger and relax primes show similar cardiovascular activity patterns

Melanie M. Van Der Ploeg, Jos F. Brosschot, Markus Quirin, Richard D. Lane, Bart Verkuil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stress-related stimuli may be presented outside of awareness and may ultimately influence health by causing repetitive increases in physiological parameters, such as blood pressure (BP). In this study, we aimed to corroborate previous studies that demonstrated BP effects of subliminally presented stress-related stimuli. This would add evidence to the hypothesis that unconscious manifestations of stress can affect somatic health. Additionally, we suggest that these findings may be extended by measuring affective changes relating to these physiological changes, using measures for self-reported and implicit positive and negative affectivity. Using a repeated measures betweensubject design, we presented either the prime word "angry"(n = 26) or "relax"(n = 28) subliminally (17 ms) for 100 trials to a student sample and measured systolic and diastolic BP, heart rate (HR), and affect. The "angry"prime, compared to the "relax"prime, did not affect any of the outcome variables. During the priming task, a higher level of implicit negative affect (INA) was associated with a lower systolic BP and diastolic BP. No association was found with HR. Self-reported affect and implicit positive affect were not related to the cardiovascular (CV) activity. In sum, anger and relax primes elicited similar CV activity patterns, but implicit measures of affect may provide a new method to examine the relationship between (unconscious) stress and health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-201
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • affect
  • awareness
  • cardiovascular activity
  • implicit
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology


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