Awareness of bodily sensations during physical exercise as a function of anxiety sensitivity and interpersonal environment

Date of Completion

January 1997


Psychology, Clinical|Psychology, Physiological




The present study investigated relationships between anxiety sensitivity and interpersonal negativity in a 2 X 2 X 5 repeated measures design. Fifty-six women who scored in the upper 20% (n = 28) and the lower 33% (n = 28) of the Anxiety Sensitivity Index engaged in 10 minutes of relaxation, then aerobic exercise, then anaerobic exercise, then another 10 minutes of relaxation. Half of the women in each subsample were exposed to experimenters who were warm and engaging, and half were exposed to experimenters who were cold and brisk. Mood, heart rate and breathing rate, participants' estimations of their heart rate and breathing rate, number of heart beats during a ten-second interval, number of respirations during a ten-second interval, and participants' estimations of the numbers of heart beats and respirations during this interval were assessed at baseline, after each relaxation period, and during aerobic and anaerobic exercise. High anxiety sensitivity (AS) women reported feeling more depressed, irritated and anxious than low AS women throughout the experiment, though no more or less mellow or energetic. No differences emerged in actual heart rate or breathing rate as a function of AS or interpersonal environment. An interaction of AS and interpersonal environment emerged for the anxious subscale of the mood questionnaire, with high AS women scoring significantly higher in the cold interpersonal environment, suggesting that high AS women are more vulnerable to anxiety in the context of interpersonal negativity. Three-way interactions emerged for four of the six measures of participants' subjective experience of their physiological functioning. During physical exercise, in the cold interpersonal environment, high AS women reported higher racing heart, higher heart rate and respiration rate estimations, and higher counts of their respirations than low AS women; high AS women also overestimated their heart rate and respiration rate, whereas low AS women underestimated their heart rate and breathing rate. These effects were reversed in the warm interpersonal environment. Findings suggest that high AS women who are physiologically aroused overestimate the magnitude of physiological changes, and exaggerate the subjective experience of somatic sensations in the context of interpersonal negativity. ^