Students, professors collaborate on first-of-its-kind study about stress response at work

July 23, 2019

Team of Regis biology student-researchers

A first-of-its-kind study led by Regis University professors and students in the Department of Biology has unearthed key findings about how men and women respond to stress at work.

Published at the end of May in the International Journal on the Biology of Stress, the study found that in response to stress within a tested work setting, women's maximum heart rates were approximately 10 percent higher than those of men.

The research team believes this is the first known study to explore heart rate response in a real work setting through non-invasive methods — and the first to show women’s differential response to work stress (compared to men) during a normal job shift, as measured by heart rate.

The study examined 23 employees at the Apple Store in Boulder. The employees, who spanned job roles, wore Apple Watches that measured their heart rates during three typical work shifts. The researchers tested each subject’s heart rate according to his or her physical fitness and biological sex.

The employees’ heart rates increased in response to stress, but there was not a significant difference in heart rate response based on fitness. However, there was a significant difference based on sex. Beyond experiencing a higher maximum heart rate than male subjects, female subjects also showed a larger change in heart rate.

“That result plays into new questions,” said Jay Campisi, associate professor of biology and department chair. “Is the difference in response due to biological factors alone or are there other interacting factors responsible for this effect?"

The study originated in a graduate-level physiology course taught by Campisi and Bethany Lucas, associate professor of biology. Both contributed to the study along with Regis graduate students Stella Grayson, Halimah Hamidu, Andrew Han, Ajay Varghese and Sandra No.

The study provides a positive sign that wearable devices may be useful for research studies in non-laboratory settings, Campisi noted.

“It doesn't require taking blood, doesn't require going to a doctor, doesn't require doing anything out of the ordinary, since we can just measure you during your normal day,” he said.

Established in 1877, Regis University is a premier, globally engaged institution of higher learning in the Jesuit tradition that prepares leaders to live productive lives of faith, meaning and service. One of 27 Jesuit universities in the nation, Regis has four campus locations in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs and extensive online program offerings with more than 11,000 enrolled students. For more information, visit www.regis.edu.