Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology



First Advisor

Michael T. Allen

Second Advisor

Gailen Marshall

Third Advisor

Dwight E. Waddell

Relational Format



As the obesity epidemic increases, the prevalence of obesity-related diseases grows simultaneously. The internal environment of chronic low-grade inflammation, which characterizes obesity, leaves individuals vulnerable to disease. Cardiovascular dysfunction represents a consequential effect of obesity. An early indicator of cardiovascular disease is an impaired stress response. Further, the type of stress (active versus passive) may be differentially affected representing additional distinctions in impairment. In the present study, we have used two types of stress (active and passive) to investigate obesity-instigated alterations in cardiovascular, immune and endocrine response to stress. In addition, we have evaluated how these systems may overlap to perpetuate a potentially damaging stress response. Based on correlations used to determine relationships among the cardiovascular, immune and endocrine system we found that obese and non-obese groups responded similarly to active stress. However, the obese group exhibited blunted cardiovascular recovery following active stress. Conversely, the obese and non-obese groups responded differently to passive stress with the obese group demonstrating an overall greater stress response. This response included exaggerated reactivity of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. This suggests a possible link in obese individuals between the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis when activated in response to passive stress. These results indicate that the presentation of an abnormal stress response may occur at different times based on the type of stress. In response to passive stress, obese individuals show an exaggerated stress response; whereas the impairment associated with active stress appears during recovery.


Emphasis: Experimental Psychology



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