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JOHNSEN and LUTGENDORF, Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City 52242, USA,, examined whether the ability to visualise mental imagery affected the psychological and physiological responses to stress and relaxation.



176 subjects completed two study sessions. In session 1, subjects completed the Creative Imagination Scale and were assigned to either a stress or a relaxation condition based on their imaging scores. In session 2, subjects either watched a stressful film (‘stress condition’) or listened to a relaxation tape (‘relaxation condition’). Stress and mood were assessed before and after the stress/relaxation conditions and finger temperature was measured during the conditions.


The stress/relaxation conditions resulted in changes in finger temperature and self-reported scores of stress and mood, indicating that the experimental conditions were effective. ‘High imagers’ reported greater stress after the stressful film and less stress and negative mood after the relaxation tape compared with ‘low imagers’. Imagery ability did not predict levels of negative mood following the stress condition or changes in positive mood or finger temperature during either of the conditions. In the stress condition, the observed association between imagery ability and psychological stress was partly due to expectations of stress. Conversely, in the relaxation condition, observed responses were unrelated to expectations of relaxation.


Subjects with higher imagery ability may show greater subjective responses to both stress and relaxation. In stressful situations, expectation of stress may contribute to the effects of imagery ability on psychological stress.


Johnsen EL, Lutgendorf SK. Contributions of imagery ability to stress and relaxation. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 23 (4): 273-81. Autumn 2001.

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