Changes in limb stiffness under conditions of mental stress.

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Colleges, School and Institutes


In 2 experiments, the effects of mental stress on limb stiffness were investigated. The relative contribution to arm stiffness of individual muscle activity, co-contraction, muscle reflexes, and postural adjustments were examined. In each experiment, participants (N = 24, Experiment 1; N = 16, Experiment 2) held their supinated hand under a tray that they were required to return to horizontal after it had been suddenly released. Electromyographic activity in the biceps and triceps muscles was recorded, as were elbow and wrist angles and tray displacement. In Experiment 1, mental arithmetic stress was shown to lead to decreased tray displacement (i.e., increased resistance) compared with displacements under the control, unstressed condition, as well as to increased elbow flexion before tray release. In Experiment 2, the increased resistance to perturbation caused by mental stress was found to be independent of initial elbow angle, but to vary as a function of the amount of upward force exerted before tray release. The authors conclude that stress-induced increases in limb stiffness result from changes in the initial position of the elbow, specified by its angle, together with the initial force exerted by participants to counteract the mechanical perturbations.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-64
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of motor behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2001


  • stretch reflex, mental stress, limb stiffness, load perturbation