Disgust stimuli reduce heart rate but do not contribute to vasovagal symptoms

Philippe T. Gilchrist*, Tudor Vrinceanu, Sophie Beland, Simon L. Bacon, Blaine Ditto

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives: The vasovagal response demonstrates a unique form of stress response, common in medical settings yet provoked by a variety of blood-injury-injection stimuli. This study aimed to better understand the psychophysiological mechanisms of the vasovagal response..

Methods: 16 undergraduates with and 42 without a self-reported history of fainting watched five 3 -5 min videos with different emotional content. One documentary clip (Neutral condition) described a campus environmental project while another (Blood/Injury) depicted portions of an open heart surgery. Three additional clips were also used, including Medical, Threat, and Contamination stimuli. Vasovagal symptoms and physiological variables were assessed during each video.

Results: As predicted, while the disgust-related stimuli (Blood/Injury, Medical, Contamination) were associated with generally lower heart rate, the Blood/Injury video produced the highest symptoms and the only significant difference between previous fainters and non-fainters, The physiological measures also revealed that participants with a fainting history experienced higher stroke volume and lower systolic blood pressure throughout, as well as several main effects of video.

Limitations: An additional decrease in systolic blood pressure and respiration produced by watching the Blood/Injury video may have been sufficient to trigger symptoms in some, though results also suggest that systemic variables do not entirely explain susceptibility to symptoms. More careful evaluation of regional blood flow may be required.

Conclusions: Participants who had previously experienced strong vasovagal responses displayed what appeared to be an anticipatory response to the Blood/Injury video. Finally, disgust stimuli may reduce heart rate but do not appear to contribute to vasovagal symptoms. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-122
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • disgust
  • vasovagal
  • fainting history
  • blood fears
  • impedance cardiography


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