Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Human Development and Family Studies


Human Development and Family Studies

First Advisor

Elizabeth Shirtcliff


Student loan debt is a form of financial stress commonly rated as a top source of stress. Credit score is a comparably impactful financial construct with far-reaching implications on financial health, yet its nebulous numerical value lacks emotional salience compared to the more intuitive monetary value of student loans. This thesis aims to delve into the physiological correlates of financial stress as an acute stressor. The biomarkers suited best to studying acute financial stressors are the autonomic nervous system (ANS), regulating bodily arousal via its parasympathetic and sympathetic branches. Its quick action matches the immediacy and intensity of brief financial stressors. Using 11 participants, four biomarkers were measured during three 4-minute conditions: baseline, student debt, and credit score. During the baseline, participants filled out questionnaires. For the two stress conditions, participants estimated their student loan debt or credit score, before being shown their true value. RM ANOVAs were conducted for each biomarker (HR, RSA, PEP, GSC) per condition, assessing whether significant reactivity patterns were across each four-minute condition. Mean values within each condition (pre and post-exposure), were compared to baseline values, and then tested for differences between stressor conditions. Significant rises in GSC reactivity was found during the baseline, suggestive of anticipatory stress, with a trend-level decline in the credit score condition persisting into the student loan condition. HR significantly declined from baseline average to credit score with an additional trend-level decline from credit score to student loan. No significant changes were found between stress conditions for any biomarker. Taken as a whole, findings suggest little autonomic stress response within the experimental conditions, but increases during baseline indicate that the anticipation of the stressor exceeded that of the stressor itself.


Copyright Owner

Neil P Barnett



File Format


File Size

110 pages