Vagus activation by Cold Face Test reduces acute psychosocial stress responses

Richer R, Zenkner JJ, Küderle A, Rohleder N, Eskofier B (2022)

Publication Language: English

Publication Type: Journal article, Original article

Publication year: 2022


Original Authors: Robert Richer, Janis Zenkner, Arne Küderle, Nicolas Rohleder, Bjoern M. Eskofier

Book Volume: 12

Article Number: 19270

Issue: 1


DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-23222-9

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Chronic stress is linked to dysregulations of the two major stress pathways—the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which could for example result from maladaptive responses to repeated acute stress. Improving recovery from acute stress could therefore help to prevent this dysregulation. One possibility of physiologically interfering with an acute stress reaction might be provided by applying a cold stimulus to the face (Cold Face Test, CFT) which activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), leading to immediate heart rate decreases. Therefore, we investigated the use of the CFT protocol as an intervention to reduce acute stress responses. Twenty-eight healthy participants were exposed to acute psychosocial stress via the Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST) in a randomized between-subjects design while heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), and salivary cortisol were assessed. While both groups were equally stressed during the procedure, participants with CFT intervention showed better recovery, indicated by significant (p<0.05) differences in HR(V). We additionally found a significantly (p<0.05) lower cortisol response to the MIST and less overall cortisol secretion in the CFT condition. Both findings indicate that the CFT can successfully stimulate the PNS and inhibit the HPA axis. To the best of our knowledge, our experiment is the first to successfully use the CFT as a simple and easy-to-apply method to modify biological responses to acute stress.

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Richer, R., Zenkner, J.J., Küderle, A., Rohleder, N., & Eskofier, B. (2022). Vagus activation by Cold Face Test reduces acute psychosocial stress responses. Scientific Reports, 12.


Richer, Robert, et al. "Vagus activation by Cold Face Test reduces acute psychosocial stress responses." Scientific Reports 12 (2022).

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