BACKGROUND: Anhedonia (loss of pleasure) is characterized by low responsiveness to rewards and, by virtue of being one of the two core symptoms of depression, by altered responses to stress. We investigated the effect of an acute stress experience (i.e., a tandem skydive) that was expected to elicit both intense fear and intense euphoria in a sample of anhedonic young adults.
OBJECTIVE: (1) To examine individual differences in alpha-amylase reactivity to and recovery from a tandem skydive in anhedonic young adults; (2) to investigate whether trait depressive and anxiety problems, trait positive affect (PA), i.e., level of pleasure and reward responsiveness, and state anxiety, PA and self-esteem prior to the skydive were associated with alpha-amylase reactivity and recovery patterns; (3) to investigate whether alpha-amylase reactivity and recovery patterns were associated with pre- to post-jump changes in state anxiety, PA, and self-esteem.
METHOD: Participants were 61 individuals with persistent anhedonia (Mage = 21.38, 78.7% female), who filled out a baseline questionnaire at the start of the study, and momentary questionnaires (3 times per day) before and after the tandem skydive. Alpha-amylase was measured at four time points by means of salivettes (2 before and 2 after the skydive).
RESULTS: Alpha-amylase reactivity and recovery patterns were highly similar across individuals, although mean levels varied greatly. No associations were found between any of the trait and state measures and reactivity and recovery. Only state self-esteem was affected by the reactivity and recovery patterns, in that individuals who showed high reactivity and low recovery experienced decreases in self-esteem after the skydive.
CONCLUSIONS: Alpha-amylase patterns following a tandem skydive in anhedonic individuals are highly similar to patterns previously found in healthy individuals. Although replication is warranted, our findings tentatively suggest that a strong stress response that cannot be downregulated well predicts a decrease in self-esteem.