Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Kevin T. Larkin.


The purpose of this study was to clarify the relation between anxiety and physiological responses in older adults as compared to younger adults. Heart rate (HR), skin conductance level (SCL), skin conductance response (SCR), systolic blood pressure (SBP), and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) were obtained before, during, and after exposure to a Stroop color-word naming task and a snake video from 46 female younger adults (age 18--30) and 28 female older adults (age 65--80) who were designated as either snake fearful or snake nonfearful. No significant group differences were observed on physiological measures to baseline one or during the snake video. Younger adults exhibited significantly greater HR, SCL, and SCR responses relative to older adults during the Stroop Task, while older adults demonstrated significantly higher SBP and DBP during baseline and in response to the Stroop task as compared to younger adults. There also was evidence of delayed recovery on SCL and SCR in older adults as compared to younger adults following the Stroop task. Although high fear individuals endorsed greater anxiety on self-report measures during both tasks relative to low fear individuals, with the exception of an unusual Age x Fear x Interval interaction in SBP during recovery from the Stroop task, no significant fear group differences were observed on physiological variables before, during, or in recovery from the Stroop task or the snake video. Problems with the definition of the high fear sample population may explain these findings. Although this study was not able to support its major hypotheses, it replicated the psychophysiological findings of stressor-task studies of older adults and yielded some evidence to suggest that stressor tasks may not evoke an emotional response sufficient enough to be considered an anxiety- or fear-evoking stimulus. It also found evidence to suggest that older adults exhibited greater desynchrony (physiologic responses vs. self-report) than younger adults. The findings of this study also clearly indicated the need to employ methods of data collection that take into account age-associated changes in order to truly capture the experience/presentation of anxiety in older adults.