Big tales and cool heads: academic exaggeration is related to cardiac vagal reactivity

Emotion. 2008 Feb;8(1):138-44. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.8.1.138.


Students who exaggerate their current grade point averages (GPAs) report positive emotional and motivational orientations toward academics (Gramzow & Willard, 2006; Willard & Gramzow, 2007). It is conceivable, however, that these self-reports mask underlying anxieties. The current study examined cardiovascular reactivity during an academic interview in order to determine whether exaggerators respond with a pattern suggestive of anxiety or, alternatively, equanimity. Sixty-two undergraduates were interviewed about their academic performance. Participants evidenced increased sympathetic activation (indexed with preejection period) during the interview, suggesting active task engagement. Academic exaggeration predicted parasympathetic coactivation (increased respiratory sinus arrhythmia). Observer ratings indicated that academic exaggeration was coordinated with a composed demeanor during the interview. Together, these patterns suggest that academic exaggeration is associated with emotional equanimity, rather than anxiety. The capacity for adaptive emotion regulation--to keep a cool head when focusing on academic performance--offers one explanation for why exaggerators also tend to improve academically. These findings have implications for the broader literature on self-evaluation, emotion, and cardiovascular reactivity.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Female
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Concept*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*