Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Warren D. Franke


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to compare the stress responses of an occupationally-relevant stress (ORS) in a virtual reality environment to a well-established laboratory stressor (LS).

Hypothesis: It was hypothesized that the ORS would be as effective at eliciting a stress response as a well-established LS.

Methods: Firefighters (n=14) from Iowa underwent two different stressor scenarios: LS and ORS. Heart rate (HR), mean arterial pressure (MAP), stroke volume (SV), cardiac output (CO), pre—ejection period (PEP), and total peripheral resistance (TPR) were continuously assessed throughout the two scenarios. Subjective measures of affect (“arousal” and “pleasure”) and workload were assessed immediately after each stressor.

Results: No significant differences in mean responses of HR, MAP, SV, CO, PEP, and TPR were found between the LS and ORS. There were no statistical differences in all physiological responses throughout the journeys of the LS vs. ORS. Measures of “arousal” were similar in the ORS and LS, while measures of “pleasure” were significantly higher in the ORS (p<0.05). Workload scores were significantly higher in the LS than the ORS (p<0.0001).

Discussion: Although subjective measures of “pleasure” and workload were different between the LS and ORS, the firefighters had similar physiological stress responses. This suggests that the ORS is at least as stressful as the LS in terms of physiological responses and is a valid stressor for firefighters when compared to a well-established laboratory stressor. Thus, the ORS can be used as a stressor in future research assessing issues such as work stress in firefighters and its effect on cardiovascular disease and decision-making.


Copyright Owner

Christina Joy Sauder



File Format


File Size

117 pages