State anxiety and cortisol reactivity to skydiving in novice versus experienced skydivers

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Hare, Olivia ; Wetherell, Mark ; Smith, Michael (2013)

Previous studies have suggested that skydiving, a naturalistic stressor, is associated with increases in self-reported stress, anxiety and cortisol levels. However, it has not been established whether this stress reactivity is altered as a function of repeated exposure to skydiving. This is of interest due to previous observations that cortisol reactivity becomes habituated with repeated exposure to laboratory stressors, however, few studies have investigated such habituation to naturalistic stressors. State anxiety and cortisol reactivity to skydiving were measured in 11 first-time skydivers and 13 experienced skydivers (≥ 30 jumps, mean jumps = 397.6), who were to complete a solo skydive. The novice skydivers reported significantly greater levels of state anxiety prior to the jump; however, there were no differences in pre-jump levels of salivary cortisol. Both groups exhibited significantly elevated salivary cortisol levels immediately post-jump, relative to i) pre-jump and ii) recovery. However, the two groups were indistinguishable with regard to their cortisol reactivity to the skydive. These findings support previous research demonstrating that skydiving elicits acute cortisol activation. Further, they suggest that i) cortisol reactivity does not habituate in experienced jumpers, and ii) that there is lack of concordance between self-reported levels of anxiety and biological stress reactivity in experienced skydivers.
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