The Trier Social Stress Test and the Trier Social Stress Test for groups : Qualitative investigations

  • Vors Olivier
  • Marqueste Tanguy
  • Mascret Nicolas


The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and its version for groups (TSST-G) are the gold standard for inducing acute psychosocial stress in human experimental settings and have been used in numerous studies since the early 1990s. The TSST and the TSST-G lead to effects on different physiological and psychological markers, such as salivary cortisol, anxiety, and emotional states. These effects were assessed with quantitative methods comparing pre-test and post-test measures with statistical analyses. But to date, no qualitative analyses have been conducted to examine the meaningful experience of participants during the TSST and the TSST-G. This study is the first to conduct qualitative investigations to further clarify the stressful experience of participants confronted with these procedures. Preliminary results showed as expected that the TSST and the TSST-G effectively induced psychoso-cial stress, with cortisol levels, cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and arousal increases, and with pleasure and dominance decreases. At the qualitative level, the results evidenced that the two theoretically stressful components of the TSST and the TSST-G, namely social-evaluative threat and uncontrollability, were experienced as stress-inducing by the participants. Two case studies confirmed these findings. But the results also showed on one hand that psychosocial stress is a dynamic phenomenon, with important fluctuations throughout the tasks (mainly for the TSST-G); and on the other hand that despite the similar physiological and psychological responses between the TSST and the TSST-G evidenced by the literature , the experience of the participants was both similar and specific. Use of a qualitative method allowed us to provide a complementary point of view to understand the meaningful experience of participants during these stressful procedures, apprehending the dynamic of the subjective stress experience without disrupting it.