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Biological Psychology - Stress


Biological Psychology - Stress Stress as a bodily response The body s response to stress Stress-related illness and the immune system Stress in everyday life – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Biological Psychology - Stress

Biological Psychology - Stress
  • Stress as a bodily response
  • The bodys response to stress
  • Stress-related illness and the immune system
  • Stress in everyday life
  • Life changes and daily hassles
  • Workplace stress
  • Personality factors
  • Emotion-focused and problem-focused approaches to
    coping with stress
  • Psychological and physiological methods of stress

5 Stress
Definitions of Stress
  • A response (e.g. physiological response) to
    something in the environment
  • A stimulus (stressor) in the environment
  • A lack of fit between perceived demands and
    perceived ability to cope with these demands
  • this is the definition most often used by
    psychologists and called the transactional

Topic 1 Stress as a Bodily Response
  • The bodys response to stress
  • Stress-related illness and the immune system

5 Stress
Bodys Response to Stress
  • Pituitary adrenal system
  • Sympathomedullary pathway
  • Activating the bodys stress-response
  • General Adaptation Syndrome
  • Gender differences in the stress response

5 Stress
Hypothalamic-Pituitary- Adrenal System
  • This system involves the adrenal cortex and is
    under the control of the hypothalamus and the
    pituitary gland
  • Brain evaluates a situation as stressful
  • Brain instructs hypothalamus to release
    corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF)
  • CRF travels to pituitary gland
  • Pituitary gland releases adrenocorticotrophic
    hormone (ACTH) which travels to the adrenal
    cortex and stimulates the release of hormones
    called corticosteroids into the bloodstream

5 Stress
Hypothalamic-Pituitary- adrenal System
Sympathetic adrenal-medullary Pathway
  • The adrenal medulla is controlled by the
    autonomic nervous system (ANS), a network of
    nerve pathways running from centres in the lower
    parts of the brain (the brainstem) out to the
    organs of the body
  • The ANS is controlled by brain structures such as
    the hypothalamus
  • The ANS has two subdivisions
  • the sympathetic, and
  • the parasympathetic
  • When the sympathetic subdivision is activated,
    heart rate and blood pressure increase fats and
    carbohydrates are mobilised activity in the
    digestive tract slows down a pattern known as
    sympathetic arousal
  • When the parasympathetic subdivision is
    activated, heart rate and blood pressure return
    to normal and digestion speeds up a pattern of
    calm and bodily relaxation

5 Stress
Sympathomedullary Pathway (cont.)
  • When sympathetic branch of ANS is activated
  • Adrenal medulla releases adrenaline and
    noradrenaline into the bloodstream
  • These hormones stimulate heart rate and blood
  • In conclusion
  • The hypothalamus activates both the
    pituitary-adrenal system and the
    sympathomedullary pathways to produce the stress
  • Cannon (1914) called this pattern of bodily
    arousal the flight or fight response

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)(Selye 1956)
  • The GAS has three stages

5 Stress
Gender Differences in the Stress Response
  • Fight or Flight or Tend and Befriend?
  • Taylor et al. (2000) claim
  • High sympathetic nervous system activation and
    high cortisol responses are characteristic
    biological components of the male stress response
  • Neurophysiological mechanisms within the female
    brain inhibit the fight and flight response, and
    instead promote attachment behaviour, called the
    tend and befriend response to stress

5 Stress
Stress-related Illness and the Immune System
  • The immune system
  • Short-term stressors and the immune system
  • Chronic stress and the immune system
  • Age and gender differences in the effects of
    stress on the immune system

5 Stress
Immune System
  • The immune system is our main defence against
    infection by foreign agents
  • Non-specific immunity phagocytes surround and
    ingest foreign particles wherever they encounter
  • Cell-based immunity lymphocytes called T cells
    seek out and destroy any cells recognised as
  • Antibody-based immunity another class of
    lymphocytes called B cells destroy invading
    agents while they are still in the bloodstream
    and before they enter the bodys tissues

5 Stress
The Immune Response
Some Effects of Stress on the Immune System
  • Infection and diseases
  • Stress causes physiological changes that tend to
    weaken our immune system. As a result, infections
    and illness occur more frequently and recovery
    takes longer.
  • Indirect effects
  • Stress causes the release of ACTH from the
    pituitary gland which signals the adrenal glands
    to release anti-inflammatory hormones. These
    inhibit immune cell functioning.
  • Psoriasis and eczema
  • Symptoms of inflammatory skin disorders such as
    psoriasis and eczema worsen with stress. Stress
    interferes with the immune system's ability to
    deal with the inflammation associated with these

5 Stress
Short-term Stressors and the Immune System
  • Well established that psychological stress can
    adversely affect many aspects of immune function
  • e.g. examinations found to reduce T cell activity
    (Glaser and Kiecolt-Glaser 2005)

5 Stress
Chronic Stress and the Immune System
  • Conflict in interpersonal relationships
  • Couples whose interactions are negative and
    hostile show less adaptive immunological
    responses after these interactions
  • Interpersonal conflict can slow wound healing
  • Death of a spouse
  • The death of a close relative is also associated
    with immune system dysfunction
  • Care giving
  • Care giving, in particular caring for a spouse
    with dementia, is associated with immune system

5 Stress
Age and Gender Differences in the Effects of
Stress on the Immune System
  • A telephone survey (National Consumer League,
    2003) of over 1000 adult Americans found that
  • Women were significantly more likely to report
    problems and being stressed than men (84 vs.
  • People under the age of 65 were more likely to
    report being stressed than older people (82 vs.

5 Stress
Stress as a Bodily Response
Check Your Understanding
  1. What is a stressor?
  2. What is a stress-response?
  3. Who did the earliest systematic studies of the
  4. Name the 3 stages in the General Adaptation
  5. Describe the transactional model of stress.
  6. Name the two parts of the adrenal glands.
  7. Outline the two main pathways of the bodys

5 Stress
Stress as a Bodily Response
Check Your Understanding
  • 8. What does the bodys immune system do?
  • 9. What is immunosuppression?
  • 10. How did Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues measure
    activity of the immune system?
  • 11. What general conclusions can be drawn from
    the work of Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues?
  • 12. How did Cohen and colleagues measure the
    stress levels of his participants and how did
    they test immune function?

5 Stress
Topic 2 Stress in Everyday Life
  • Life changes and daily hassles
  • Workplace stress
  • Personality factors
  • Emotion-focused and problem-focused approaches to
    coping with stress
  • Psychological and physiological methods of stress

5 Stress
Life Changes and Daily Hassles
  • Life changes
  • The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)
  • Other research into life changes as a source of
  • Daily hassles
  • Research on daily hassles
  • Why are daily hassles so stressful?

5 Stress
Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)
  • Developed by Holmes and Rahe (1967)
  • Way of measuring the relationship between life
    changes (e.g. death of spouse, marriage, change
    in financial status) and wellbeing
  • Positive (small but significant) correlation
    between Life Change Scores and illness scores
  • Other studies have supported this finding

5 Stress
Other Research into Life Changes as a Source of
  • Stone et al. (1987) - married couples completed
    daily checklists of events over a 3 month period
  • The number of undesirable events that they
    experienced increased 3 to 4 days prior to the
    onset of illness, and desirable events decreased
    during the same period
  • Michael and Ben-Zur (2007) studied 130 people
  • People who had been widowed experienced a drop in
    life satisfaction after their loss
  • Divorced people experienced an increase in life
    satisfaction after their divorce

5 Stress
The Life Changes Approach
  • Individual differences
  • The scale values for different events are
    arbitrary and will certainly vary from person to
  • Causality
  • The relationship between SRRS score and health
    is correlational and so tells us nothing about
  • Positive life events
  • Some life events are positive - people getting
    married probably see it as a positive change
  • Self-report
  • Self-report of life events can be unreliable
  • Dated and androcentric
  • More recent studies use a scale that focuses more
    on contemporary issues

5 Stress
Daily Hassles
  • Minor events that arise in the course of a normal
    day. Adverse effects can be offset by
    corresponding daily uplifts
  • Hassles Scale and Uplift Scale were devised by
    Kanner et al. (1981)
  • Examples of uplifts
  • Relating well to spouse/partner/lover
  • Relating well to friends
  • Completing a task
  • Feeling healthy
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating out
  • Visiting, phoning or writing to someone
  • Examples of hassles
  • Concerns about weight
  • Health of a family member
  • Rising price of certain goods
  • Home maintenance
  • Too many things to do
  • Misplacing or losing items
  • Physical appearance

5 Stress
Research on Daily Hassles
  • Scores on the Hassles Scale correlate with levels
    of depression, anxiety and health problems
    (Kanner et al. 1981)
  • Gervais (2005) found that nurses, who were asked
    to keep diaries for a month, felt that uplifts
    usually counteracted the negative effects of
    their daily hassles, and also improved their
    performance and lowered stress levels
  • DeLongis et al. (1982) compared Hassles scores
    with Life Events, and found that although both
    correlated significantly with health status, the
    association for Hassles scores was greater.
    Ruffin (1993) also found in an Australian study
    that daily hassles produced greater psychological
    and physical dysfunction than major negative life
  • A recent study of French first year psychology
    students (Bouteyre et al. 2007) has established a
    significant relationship between daily hassles
    and mental health of students during the initial
    transition period to university

5 Stress
Research into Daily Hassles
  • Causality - Most of the data on daily hassles is
    correlational. Therefore, we cannot draw causal
    conclusions about the relationship between daily
    hassles and stress-related problems
  • However, correlations indicate that daily stress
    can potentially have adverse effects on our
    health and feelings of well-being
  • Cultural differences Social support is an
    important protective factor against stress, and
    there are cultural variations in how it is used
  • African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics
    were found to use the social support offered by
    significant others (e.g. parents and friends)
    more than did White Americans (Kim and McKenry
  • However, Sim (2000) found that Korean early
    adolescents reported having more daily hassles
    that contributed to maladjustment than they had
    social support from significant others

5 Stress
Workplace Stress
  • Sources of stress in the workplace
  • Research on workplace stress

5 Stress
Sources of Stress in the Workplace
  • Physical environment
  • Space, temperature, lighting and arrangement of
    an office can all affect the individual
  • Work overload
  • Long hours at work are often seen as a mark of
    esteem, to the cost of both the individual and
    social structures, such as the family
  • Lack of control
  • In many organisations, other people often
    determine workload and work patterns
  • Role ambiguity
  • This occurs when the requirements for a
    particular work role are unclear or poorly
    defined and is a major factor contributing to
    work-related stress

5 Stress
Research on Workplace Stress
  • Many studies carried out. For example
  • Marmot et al. (1991) carried out a 3-year
    longitudinal study of 3,000 Whitehall civil
    servants. People with low job control were more
    likely to die of heart attacks than those with
    high job control
  • Review of research (Van der Doef and Maes 1998)
    found that combination of high job demands and
    low control increases risk of heart disease

5 Stress
Research on Workplace Stressors
  • Extraneous variables - It is possible that
    variables, such as personality, were not
    controlled for. People with Type A personality
    may be attracted to stressful jobs and this is
    what causes their health problems.
  • Job control - Having high levels of job control
    can be stressful for some people, e.g. increasing
    job control can be harmful for individuals who
    lack the capacity to handle it or when this
    control increases their self-blame when things go
  • Individual differences - Research has shown that
    as other cultures take on the working practices
    of the West, a similar relationship between lack
    of control and stress-related illness is becoming
    evident. However, not all workers with low
    control and high demand jobs become ill.

5 Stress
Personality Factors and Stress Type A Behaviour
  • Characteristics of Type A behaviour
  • Recent research on Type A behaviour
  • Explaining the relationship between Type A
    behaviour and heart disease

5 Stress
Characteristics of Type A Behaviour
  • Time pressure
  • Working against the clock
  • Doing several things at once
  • Irritation and impatience with others
  • Unhappy doing nothing
  • Competitive
  • Always play to win at games and work
  • Achievement measured as material productivity
  • Anger
  • Self-critical
  • Hostile to outside world
  • Anger often directed inwards
  • Type B behaviour
  • Opposite of Type A
  • More relaxed
  • Not time pressured, competitive or angry

Research on Type A Behaviour
  • Friedman and Rosenman (1974) Type A behaviour
    increases vulnerability to heart disease
  • Williams et al. (2003) found that hostility and
    impatience were the aspects of Type A behaviour
    that were particularly unhealthy, putting
    individuals at increased risk of developing high
    blood pressure (a precursor to heart attacks and
  • Kirkaldy et al. (2002) found that Type A
    behaviour plus an external locus of control were
    an unhealthy combination

5 Stress
Explaining the Relationship Between Type A
Behaviour and Heart Disease
  • Several explanations have been proposed for the
    link between Type A behaviour (or components of
    it such as hostility) and an increased risk of
    coronary heart disease
  • Compared to Type Bs, Type A individuals respond
    more quickly and more strongly to stressful
    situations, both in their behaviour and in their
    physiological responses (e.g. increased heart
    rate and blood pressure)
  • As a result, they experience more wear and tear
    on their cardiovascular system, making them more
    susceptible to heart disease than those with type
    B behaviour

5 Stress
Evaluation of Type A Behaviour
  • Lack of consistent research support
  • The role of hostility
  • Type A and hardiness
  • Protective factors

5 Stress
Personality Factors and Stress the Hardy
  • Hardiness includes a range of personality
    factors that, if present, defend against the
    negative effects of stress (Kobasa and Maddi
  • These factors are
  • Control belief that you have influence on what
    happens to you
  • Commitment a sense of purpose and involvement in
    the world
  • Challenge life changes viewed as challenges and
    opportunities rather than threats and stressors
  • Research by Kobasa et al. (1985) found
  • Hardiness, social support and regular exercise
    were all protective factors that acted additively
    to improve resistance to stress
  • Hardiness seemed to have greatest impact

5 Stress
Hardiness and the Hardy Personality
  • Participants
  • Much of Kobasas work has been carried out with
    male, white-collar workers, and so the findings
    may not be generalisable to other groups
  • Components of personality
  • Control, commitment and challenge have never been
    very clearly defined

5 Stress
Emotion-focused and Problem-focused Coping
  • Problem-focused coping
  • Strategies that attempt to do something active to
    alleviate or eliminate the stressful situation
  • Emotion-focused coping
  • Strategies that attempt to regulate the emotional
    distress associated with stressful or potentially
    stressful events

5 Stress
When is each coping strategy used?
  • Problem-focused coping
  • Typically used to deal with potentially
    controllable events whereas stressors perceived
    as less controllable might prompt more
    emotion-focused coping.
  •  Emotion-focused coping
  • Emotion-focused strategies also help people deal
    with stressful situations where there are few
    options to change the situation itself.
  • In conclusion
  • The predominant view among stress researchers is
    that emotion-focused coping strategies are less
    effective than problem-focused strategies.

5 Stress
Research on Emotion and Problem-focused Coping
  • Health outcomes
  • Problem-focused coping positively correlated with
    good health outcomes
  • Emotion-focused coping tends to be negatively
    correlated with overall good health outcomes
  • Control and coping
  • Problem-focused coping tends to be positively
    related to good mood
  • Threat and coping
  • When greatly threatened by a stressor we may need
    to use emotion-focused coping first

5 Stress
Emotion and Problem-focused Coping
  • Problems of measurement
  • Ways of Coping Questionnaire has been
  • Is emotion-focussed coping always ineffective?
  • Emotion-focused coping better in some
  • Men, in particular, may benefit from using
    emotion-focused coping
  • Do males and females use different strategies?
  • Men tend to use problem-focused strategies and
    women tend more often to use emotion-focused
    strategies. Reasons

5 Stress
Methods of Stress Management
  • Physiological approaches
  • The use of drugs and biofeedback to target
    directly the stress-response systems themselves
  • Psychological approaches
  • Cognitive and behavioural training to help people
    control specific stressors in their lives
  • Techniques of relaxation and increasing hardiness
    to reduce the bodily arousal associated with

5 Stress
Physiological Methods of Stress Management
  • Commonly used drugs to combat stress are the
  • Benzodiazepines (BZs)
  • Reduce brain arousal
  • Beta-blockers
  • Reduce activity of sympathetic nervous system

How benzodiazepines enhance the inhibitory role
of GABA at the synapse
5 Stress
Advantages of Drugs as a Method of Stress
  • Speed and effectiveness
  • Drugs can work quickly to reduce dangerous
    symptoms such as raised blood pressure
    (beta-blockers), or to reduce disabling levels of
    stress-related anxiety (BZs)
  • Research support
  • A meta-analysis of studies found that BZs were
    more effective than other drugs such as
    antidepressants. However, they do not seem to
    prevent onset of PTSD
  • Availability
  • Drugs can be prescribed immediately. In addition,
    the range of treatments available is increasing

5 Stress
Weaknesses of Drugs as a Method of Stress
  • Dependency
  • Long-term use of BZs can lead to psychological
    and physical dependency
  • Tolerance
  • Tolerance to the effects of BZs develops with
    regular use
  • Side effects
  • BZs can cause drowsiness and affect memory
  • NICE report (2006)
  • The National Institute for Clinical Excellence
    recommended that beta-blockers should not be used
    to treat high blood pressure, except in a few
    specific cases. Beta blockers are associated with
    an increased risk of diabetes and stroke

5 Stress
Physiological Methods of Stress Management
  • Involves recording the activity of the
    physiological systems of the bodys
    stress-response, such as blood pressure or
    tension in the neck muscles Recording is usually
    made via electrodes on the skin leading to a
  • People are encouraged to try various strategies
    to reduce the physiological readings, e.g. muscle
    relaxation or meditation, or even altering their
  • The aim is to find a strategy to reduce, for
    instance, blood pressure consistently, and then
    to transfer the strategy to the world outside the
    laboratory and to practise it regularly.

5 Stress
Biofeedback as a Method of Stress Management
  • Effectiveness
  • Can be very successful for some individuals,
    especially children
  • Role of relaxation
  • Often found to be no more effective than muscle
    relaxation procedures without biofeedback
  • Expense
  • Expensive in terms of equipment and time. If
    relaxation is the important feature, then the
    cost of the equipment could be avoided and
    training time would be much reduced

5 Stress
Psychological Methods of Stress Management
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • According to the transactional model of stress,
    the trigger in stressful situations is the
    perceived gap between the demands being made on
    you and the coping responses you have available.
  • The CognitiveBehavioural approaches to stress
    management aim to encourage the client to
    perceive and evaluate stressful situations
    accurately and to improve coping skills and
    techniques by training and practice.
  • Stress inoculation is a cognitive-behavioural
    method to prepare individuals for future
    stressors and to promote resilience (Meichenbaum
    and Cameron 1983).

5 Stress
Stress-Inoculation Training
  • Conceptualisation The client is encouraged to
    relive stressful situations and to analyse
    various features. What was actually stressful
    about it? How did they attempt to cope? Why
    wasnt it successful? Eventually, clients reach a
    more realistic understanding of the demands being
    made on them.
  • Skills training and practice Once the key
    elements of the stressful situations have been
    identified, clients can be taught specific and
    non-specific strategies for coping with them.
    Relaxation techniques help them to cope with the
    initial arousing effects of stress and training
    in particular skills then helps reduce the
    specific demands.
  • Real-life application The final stage is for
    the client to go out into the real world and to
    put the training to the test. Contact with the
    therapist is maintained, and follow-up sessions
    and further training are provided if necessary.
    The reinforcement of successful coping then
    becomes self-sustaining.

5 Stress
Stress Inoculation Training
  • Targeting symptoms and causes
  • Helpful at reducing gap between perceived demands
    and coping resources
  • Effectiveness
  • A powerful tool. But, few controlled studies done
    to check effectiveness
  • Practicality
  • Expensive in time, application and money
  • Difficulties
  • Changing cognitions and behaviours is difficult
    if they are based on well established habits

5 Stress
Psychological Methods of Stress Management
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Effective relaxation has to be learnt. It is an
    active approach to reducing bodily arousal
  • A standard procedure train clients consciously
    to clench and unclench muscles, to get them used
    to the sensations of tension and relaxation
  • Whole-body relaxation begin with the muscles of
    the toes, tensing and then relaxing them, and
    then working up through the legs, body, arms,
    shoulders and head (facial muscles)
  • During relaxation the stress response mechanisms
    are inactive the parasympathetic subdivision of
    the ANS is activated

5 Stress
Progressive Muscle Relaxation as a Method of
Stress Management
  • Effectiveness If practised regularly,
    relaxation techniques are effective in reducing
  • Practicality Techniques take time and space and
    full progressive relaxation may be
    inconvenient/impossible. However, training also
    involves cognitive strategies to help relaxation
    and relaxation of some muscle groups is usually
  • Targeting symptoms Long-lasting severe
    stressors need more than non-specific relaxation
    their source has to be identified and targeted,
    usually via cognitive and behavioural strategies.
    Relaxation can still remain as an important
    component of stress management, but long-term
    adjustment requires more focused intervention as

5 Stress
Psychological Methods of Stress Management
Hardiness Training
  • Kobasa proposed ways in which hardiness could be
    increased. The procedure has three aspects, the
    first two of which are quite similar to the first
    stage of stress-inoculation training
  • Focusing Clients are trained and encouraged to
    spot signs of stress. This allows them to
    identify sources of stress.
  • Reliving stressful encounters Clients analyze
    recent stressful situations and how they coped
    with them. This gives them insight into their
    current coping strategies.
  • Self-improvement Central to hardiness is the
    belief that you can cope with lifes challenges.
    So an essential part of hardiness training is to
    begin with challenges the client can cope with
    before moving on to more complex problems.

5 Stress
Hardiness Training
  • Theoretical issues The relative importance of
    the three factors control, commitment,
    challenge is unclear, although there is
    evidence for the role of control and commitment
    in reducing responses to stressors. The
    importance of control in stress management cannot
    be exaggerated, and the concept of hardiness
    overlaps substantially with issues of personal
    control and may not be very different from it.
  • Generalisability Kobasas studies usually
    involve white, middle-class businessmen, so the
    results cannot reliably be generalised to women
    or to different classes and cultures.
  • Effectiveness and practicality There are few
    systematic studies of the effectiveness of
    hardiness training. It is lengthy and requires
    commitment and motivation. It also has the
    problem of trying to modify basic aspects of
    personality and learnt habits of coping.

5 Stress
Stress in Everyday Life
Check Your Understanding
  • What is the name of the rating scale devised by
    Holmes and Rahe in 1967 to investigate life
    stress? How many life events were on this scale
    and which was given the highest score of 100?
  • 2. Outline two criticisms of the Holmes and
    Rahes scale and its use.
  • 3. What term is used to describe incidents that
    we would not call major life events, but which
    nevertheless can be a source of stress?
  • 4. Outline the procedures and findings of one
    study of stress in the workplace.
  • 5. How did Johansson et al. (1978) measure levels
    of stress in their study of Swedish sawmill
  • 6. Describe two or more sources of stress in the
  • 7. Describe the main characteristics of the Type
    A behaviour pattern.
  • 8. Which characteristic of the Type A pattern
    seems to be especially important in increasing
    vulnerability to stress?

5 Stress
Stress in Everyday Life
Check Your Understanding
  • 9. Why might some people with Type A behaviour
    be less vulnerable to stress-related illness than
    others who also have Type A behaviour?
  • Distinguish between emotion-focused and
    problem-focused coping.
  • Give two advantages and two disadvantages of each
    type of coping.
  • Describe the effects of two types of drug used to
    manage stress.
  • Outline one strength and one weakness of using
    drugs to manage stress.
  • Name and outline the three phases of
    stress-inoculation training.
  • Outline one strength and one weakness of the
    stress inoculation approach.
  • Name and outline one other psychological method
    of stress management

5 Stress
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