Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2017

Journal Title or Book Title

In Vivo






Publisher's PDF


Perceived stress is prevalent among the undergraduate population. When this stress persists, it has the potential to lead to mental health illnesses. Recent research shows 85% of students experience overwhelming anxiety from academic pressures. Physiologically, during stressful events, cortisol levels rise in the body which disrupts homeostasis. The anticipation prior to a class presentation, a form of public speaking, is a common source of perceived stress among undergraduates. The focus of this experiment was to determine if there is a correlation between factors such as increased preparedness, sleep, level of understanding, perceived anxiety and physiological stress parameters. Twenty-eight student volunteers with an impending oral presentation were enrolled from both 100- level and 200-level undergraduate courses. At baseline and on the day of the presentation, salivary cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure were measured. The participants were also asked to complete the Beck’s Anxiety Inventory (BAI). Compared to baseline, cortisol levels on the day of the presentation were significantly increased in both groups. The change in salivary cortisol levels did not correlate with the number of hours spent preparing, the level of understanding nor hours of sleep the night before the presentation. However, the analyses revealed a trend toward an inverse correlation between the self-reported level of understanding and change in cortisol levels. Essentially, students who felt ambiguous toward their level of understanding of their presentation experienced lower changes in cortisol levels when compared to those students who reported a stronger understanding of the material. This study confirms that undergraduates’ perceived stress in anticipation of public speaking does manifest in significantly elevated cortisol levels. It does not provide a link between increased preparation and reduction of stress parameters. Future studies could focus on alternative methods such as mindfulness and meditation and their efficacy in reducing undergraduate stress associated with public speaking.

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Erin, Grace, Stephanie, and Daniel are Molloy undergraduate students.