The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between viewing and hearing about violence in the news and salivary cortisol levels during and after the presentation in a sample of 33 undergraduate students. It was hypothesized that (1) participants would experience activation of the autonomic nervous system, as measured by an increase in salivary cortisol levels when they were exposed to violence, as portrayed in the news; (2) participants would report a change in mood and bodily sensations on a visual analogue scale after they were exposed to the violence reported in the news; (3) participants who reported higher levels of stress in the past month on the Perceived Stress Scale would experience a greater increase in salivary cortisol, and a greater change in mood and bodily sensations as measured by the visual analogue scale over the course of the exposure than participants who reported lower levels of stress in the month prior to the study. The participants filled out the Perceived Stress Scale and a questionnaire, which consisted of some basic demographic information, the Visual Analogue Scales, and television viewing habits, and a saliva sample was collected from each of the participants. After exposure to the news clips, and once again after exposure to the sitcom, the participants filled out another questionnaire and saliva sample was collected from the participants. Cortisol levels did not increase after the participants were exposed to the news clip. Participants reported a significant decrease in joy and an increase in restlessness after exposure to the news. Participants reported a significant decrease in tiredness, sadness, irritation, anxiety, and restlessness after exposure to the comedy clip. Additionally, participants reported a significant increase in relaxation and joy after exposure to the comedy clip. Higher rates of reported stress in the past month were associated with significantly higher rates of reported feeling cold, trembling, close to tears, sweaty palms, difficulty breathing, and restlessness, but not significant changes in cortisol levels.
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