Respiration rate during a stress task moderates neuroticism and perceived stress in older adults
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Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, United States
Submission date: 2021-08-31
Final revision date: 2021-11-12
Acceptance date: 2022-01-14
Online publication date: 2022-03-17
Research suggests that respiration rate is related to psychological factors such as neuroticism and perceived stress in addition to physiological factors. However, it is unclear how respiration rate during a laboratory stress task relates to the relationship between neuroticism and perceived stress.

Participants and procedure:
This cross-sectional secondary analysis examined respiration rate during a stress task in moderating the relationship between neuroticism and perceived stress in a sample of generally healthy older adults (n = 64). Respiration data were collected during an auditory oddball paradigm and the Portland Arithmetic Stress Task (PAST), a laboratory-based cognitive stressor.

The results indicated that respiration rate during the PAST significantly moderated the relationship between neuroticism and perceived stress (p = .031), such that participants who exhibited a very low (–1.78 SD) respiration rate showed a non-significant relationship between neuroticism and perceived stress, whereas participants with average (mean; p < .001) and elevated respiration rates (+1 SD; p < .001) exhibited a significant positive relationship between neuroticism and perceived stress.

These findings add to a body of literature suggesting that stress reactivity is an important link between personality factors and negative outcomes. However, this is the first study to our knowledge to examine the role of physiological stress reactivity in buffering this relationship. The results suggest that individuals higher in neuroticism may attenuate the relationship between stress vulnerability and perceived stress through decreased physiological stress reactivity, particularly by exhibiting slow breathing during a stressor.

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