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The continuum of consciousness in cardiovascular stress research: An experimental expedition

Melanie Maria van der Ploeg

Studies on the psychological and physiological stress-responses have been unable to fully clarify the underlying relationship. The unconscious stress hypothesis proposes that stress-related processes outside of awareness may negatively affect cardiovascular (CV) health by activating and even prolonging physiological stress-responses.

This thesis provides a starting point in the exploration of the role of processes outside of awareness in cardiovascular stress research. The eight chapters discuss the findings of a systematic review and a series of experiments, using subliminal priming paradigms and fear conditioning, and address various theoretical and methodological issues to benefit future studies in this area. It seems evident that what is outside of awareness may influence the physiological state, but not necessarily all health-relevant parameters. The physiological changes related to unconscious stress appears to differ between the various stressful stimuli and stressors used.

This expedition exposed an abundance of options available to further assess and influence processes outside of awareness that can be applied in the context of psychological stress and health.

The thesis defense will take place on September 25, 2018 at Leiden University, The Netherlands.

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