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Psychology for AS

Physiological Psychology : Stress

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You are all probably feeling a little stressed right now with all the revision but I've tried to make this as simple and easy to understand as poss.
Selye's definition = stressor -> stress response
Transactional definition = stressor + cognitions -> stress response
Parts of the body involved in the Stress Response!
  • CNS (central nervous system) made up of the BRAIN and SPINAL CORD. The hypothalamus at the base of the brain is important!
  • ANS (autonomic nervous system) network of nerve pathways (brain to organs, bloodstream + glands). MAINTAINS BODILY FUNCTIONS. 2 Subdivisions : Sympathetic Branch [arouses body] and Parasympathetic Branch [Calms + relaxes body].
  • Endocrine System endorcrine glands secrete hormones into blood stream. The Pituitary Gland and Adrenal Glands (adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla) used in stress response.

Two pathways (need to know these VERY well for a 6 mark question so memorise them!)


* higher brain tells hypothalamus to begin pathway * hypothalamus connected to pituitary gland by infindibulum * hypothalamus releases corticotrophic-releasing hormone (CRH) that stimulates pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) * travels to adrenal cortex and stimulates release of corticosteroids into bloodstream * corticosteroids mobilise energy reserves and sustain blood flow and heart rate *

At the same time the 2nd pathway is working...


* when info of stressor is known, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic branch of the ANS, which stimulates adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and noradrenaline into bloodstream * the 2 hormones reinforce the activation of the sympathetic ANS - stimulate heart rate, raise blood pressure, mobilise energy reserves


Stage 1 - ALARM : stressor perceived (internal or external)... activation of two pathways... body prepared for energy expenditure...

Stage 2 - RESISTANCE : stress response fully activated and coping... outside - back to normal... inside - body's resources not being replaced quickly enough...

Stage 3 - EXHAUSTION : is stressor is long-lasting hormone reserves could become depleted... as systems become exhausted, stress-related conditions would appear (eg high blood pressure)...

Evaluation of GAS

+ first systematic attempt to describe stress response.

- difficult to generalise animals to humans as humans are physically different. humans also tend to respond mostly to psychological stressors.

- it ignores individual differences (eg gender). research shows the view that we all respond the same is limited.




How could stress contribute to these disorders???

(1) Direct Mechanical Effects = stress response increases blood pressure by contrictions of blood vessels and increased heart rate... can wear away lining of blood vessels...

(2) Energy Mobilisation = two pathways lead to energy reserves being mobilised in for of fatty acids and glucose... if these are not burnt up the body will attempt to reabsorb them into storage cells... is stressor is long-term the body can't manage this... high levels of fatty acids and glucose remain in bloodstream...


Theorell & Emlund -> looked at effects of negative life events over one year.. these events were accompanied by high blood pressure and production of fatty acids.

Evans -> found a link between low-status jobs and high blood pressure + cholesterol levels..

Cobb & Rose -> found that hypertension rates were several times higher in air traffic controllers..

KEY STUDY : The Western Collaborative Group Study

Aim to investigate links between the Typa A behaviour pattern and heart disease.

Proc interviews... 3200 california men (aged 39-59) were categorised (type A, X or B)... large sample followed up for 8 and a half years to assess their life style + health outcomes.

Find 257 men had developed heart disease (70% were type A)... independent of lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity...

Conc type A increases vulnerability to heart disease... behaviour modification programmes to reduce type A behaviour should reduce risk of heart disease...

Crit other variables could have affected vulnerability (eg hardiness)... not an experimental study - cause + effect cannot be assumed... other studies failed to show a relationship between type A and heart disease...

Contribution of other factors!!!

Inherited : heart disease  + high blood pressure may be partially genetic... family history studies show pattern of high blood pressure in relatives...

Lifestyle : (1) smoking (2) poor diet (3) lack of exercise (4) obesity. HOWEVER, these lifestyle choice are often the result of stressors.

Protective : (1) exercise (2) good genes (3) high level of control (4) good relationships/support

CONCLUSION TO STRESS + CARDIOVASCULAR DISORDERS = the evidence for a link between stress and cardiovascular disorders is not simple + clear cut.... some studies have not been supported by other research evidence.... may be due to difficulty of measuring vague concepts (stressors and personality types).... weight of evidence does suggest a link!!.... stress is one factor that interacts with others to cause heart disease..


The immune system is our main defence against infection.

Non-Specific Immunity = PHAGOCYTES surround and eat foreign particles.

Cell-Based Immunity = LYMPHOCYTES called T cells seek out and destory foreign or infected cells (NK cells do a similar job).

Antibody-Based Immunity = another type of LYMPHOCYTE - B cells seek out invading agents while they are still in bloodstream. They produce antibodies which attach to foreign cell and slow it down so it can be destroyed by other immune cells.



Aim investigate link between stressful life evenst and vulnerbility to common cold.

Proc 394 healthy people asked to assess own stress level using questionnaire... given stress index on the basis of this... they were exposed to one of five comon cold viruses in form of nasal drops.

Find 82% of the p's became infected with the cold virus... this highly correlated with their stress index (high stress index = more symptoms of infection).

Conc strongly suggest that high levels of stress suppress immune function and leave a person more vulnerable to viral infection.

Crit + nice sized sample... + well-controlled study... - correlation only (cause and effect uncertain).


Aim investigate whether stress of important exams has an effect on the function of immune system.

Proc 75 med students... natural experiment... blood samples taken (a) 1 month before exams (b) during exams... immune function assessed (NK cell activity)... questionnaire to assess psych variables.

Find NK cell activity reduced in 2nd sample... NK cell activity most reduced in p's who also reported high levels of life events and loneliness.

Conc exam stress reduces immune function leaving individual vulnerable to infection... immune function also affected by psych variables.

Crit - correlational study. strong conc of cause and effect cannot be drawn... + natural experiment. reasonable ecological validity. generalisation to be made with caution though...


the evidence for a link is not simple and clear cut... weight of evidence does suggest a link between stress and immune system... other factors (eg life events) can affect whether or not we get sick... also, whether the stressor is short-lived or not... at most stress is just one contributing factor to illness.



Life Changes - 1. Life Events

Holmes & Rahe observed in their patients that stress and poor health seemed to be associated with certain life events.

The life events could involve change from a steady state (divorce).

Even positive events (marriage) seemed to be associated with stress.

Changed associated with life events absorb PSYCHIC ENERGY, leaving less available to fight illness.

Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) with 43 life events.. each with a value of how stressful it is (life change units). If you have 150+ points on the scale = STRESSED!

Evidence for life events

KEY STUDY - Rahe et al (american soldier study)

Aim investigate whether SRRS scores were correlated wih subsequent onset of illness.

Proc 2500 male american soldiers... total SRRS score recorded... next 6 months, detailed records kept of health... LCU's (life change units) were correlated with illness scores.

Find positive correlation of +0.118 between life changes and illness... though small does indicate correlation... as LCU's increased, so did illness frequency.

Conc As LCU's were positively correlated with illness scores, experiencing life events increased the chanceof stress-related health breakdown... As correlation not perfect, other factors must be contributing.

Crit - study doesnt take into account individual differences in reaction to stress... - a correlation doesnt show cause and effect... - sample restricted to us navy personnel (ethnocentric and androcentric). this reduces validity and makes it difficult to generalise to other populations.

Evaluation of SRRS scale

+ simple, straightforward. quick and easy to administer and score.

+ significant correlations between LCU and ill health (good predictor).

- not a strong correlation. weak link between stress and illness.

- causality. the link is correlational onlu.

- positive life events. the srrs does not distinguish between positive and negative stressors. this theory assumes  ANY life change is stressful and there is no evidence for this.

Life Changes - 2. Daily Hassles

Kanner et al said it is the less dramatic and everyday events that are most stressful (stuck in traffic). He called these 'hassles'. There was another concept of 'uplifts' that make you feel good (good nights sleep).

Evidence for Hassles

Delongis et al gave a questionnaire to test whether life evnts or hassles are a better indicator of ill health... also considered uplifts... stronger correlation between hassles and ill health than there was between life events and ill health... no relationship between uplifts and health... concluded it is more the daily hassles in life that cause stress rather than major life events.

Criticisms of Hassles

- research correlational.

- no account of individual differences.

Conclusion to life changes

enough evidence to conclude that life changes do cause us stress... however we do need to keep in mind that research in this field is correlational and that individuals may respond differently to life changes.

Workplace Stressors

1. Lack of Control : when workload patterns are set by others this can lead to a sense of helplessness... there are individual differences, though, with some people preferring to leave decision making to others.

KEY STUDY - Marmot et al

Aim to investigate the association between workplace stress and stress-related illness in male and female civil servants... focused on positive correlation between job control and stress-related illness.

Proc 10308 civil servants age 35-55 (67% men, 33% women)... longitudinal study (3 years)... job control measured by self-repot survery and independent assessments (2 times)... records kept for stress-related illness... correlated analysis - test association with job control.

Find low job control = 4 times more likely to die of a heart attack.

Conc illness increases as job control decreases.

Crit - investigator effects. observations made by managers could be biased because they expect correlation... - cause and effect not known. no connection between lack of control and illness.

2. Environmental Factors : noise, temp, pollution, overcrowding.

Calhorn established a population of rats in an enclosure... plenty of food, no predators, little disease... within 2 years the population had reached a steady 150 adults... reason = stress... poor maternal behaviour + high infant mortality rate because of social interactions... male rats became more aggressive and attacked + killed baby rats.

careful in generalising results to humans.

3. Workload : occurs when there it too much to do meaning people spend longer at work, or the work is too difficult... worker's perception important... work underload occurs when there is not enough to do or the work is boring/simple.

johansson et al studied workers who fed timer into cutting machiens... work = repetitive + monotonous + workers felt they could do little to change things... high blood pressure, high rate of stomach disorders + headaches... study lacks control... cause + effect???... study doesnt isolate which factor is causing stress.

Conclusion to workplace stressors

difficult to pinpoint specific sources of stress and separate them from other factors that might cause stress.

Individual Differences


Friedman and Rosenman - 2 personality types :

Type A - hostile, competitive, sense of time urgency.

Type B - relxed, less ambitious, focus on quality of life.

Type C - hard working, conventional, sociable, avoid conflict.

KEY STUDY - The Western Collaborative Study (see heart disease section)!!

Evaluation of personality types

- difficult to categorise people into three types.

- correlations in research is never strong.

- Type A can be happy people.

- Type A combined with hostility may lead to heart disease and not Type A on its own.


Kobasa argued that people differ considerably in their ability to cope with stressors.

Hardy people have following;

1. commitment - more involved in what they do and have direction in life. find meaning in work and relationships.

2. challenge - view potentionally stressful situations as a challenge and an opportunity.

3. control - stronger sense of personal control. able to influence events in their lives.

Criticised as hardiness is difficult to assess...control, commitment + challenge never defined... participants in studies have been middle class white men... difficult to generalise.


No evidence that one gender has more external stressors than the other.

KEY STUDY - Frankenhaeuser et al

Aim to test different reactions of males and females in response to an external stressor.

Proc urine samples taken for male and female students prior to them sitting an exam and at intervals after the exam... adrenaline measured... natural experiment.

Find female students showed small increase in adrenaline levels with their adrenaline level returning to normal quickyl after exam... males were opposite... performance in examination roughly the same.

Conc women showed less psysiological arousal than men and this is why women live longer and suffer less stress-related illness such as heart disease.

Crit - other variables might have affected stress levels (environment)... - limited sample. students only. cant generalise.

Reasons for gender differences

Evolutionary : men evolved to fight and hunt for food which means they are stressed and aggressive...women evolved to care for children making them calm and caring... explanation non-falsifiable (cannot be disproved)... should look at today not past.

Biological : Hastrup et al found that oestrogen helps to lower the stress response... in men testosterone may act to increase their stress response... studies of pre-pubescent boys and girls have still found differences... stress reaction not explained purely in terms of sex hormones.

Lifestyle : males have less social support and more unhealthy habits... but the gender gap is narrowing with more women smoking and drinking and men are starting to discuss emotions

Socialisation : women = emphasis on caring... men = competitive...women less likely to be Type A and be hostile... supported by evidence - women with male jobs had a more 'male' stress response.



Physiological approaches to stress management focus on reducing the stress response using things like drugs and biofeedback.

Psychological approaches to stress management focus on changing the way people think and improve their coping skills, using things like stress-inoculation training and hardiness.

Physiological approaches


Two most commonly prescribed = benzodiazephines (anti-anxiety) and beta-blockers (reduce blood pressure).

Benzodiazephines, such as Valium, can be very effective in reducing stress and anxiety... they appear to reduce the activity of the brain neurotransmitter *serotonin* and reduce brain arousal.

Beta-blockers, such as Inderal, directly reduce the activity in the sympathetic branch of the ANS... they can therefore be very helpful against symptoms such as raised blood pressure and heart rate... the have been used by musicians and snooker players.

Evaluation of Drugs

+ drugs are quick and effective.

+ drugs are readily available and there is a wide range.

- longterm use can lead to dependency... withdrawal symptoms can occur (headaches etc)... drugs should only be used for a short time.

- drugs have side effects... Bz can cause drowsiness and affect memory.

- drugs only target the symptoms and not the real cause of the problem.


drugs are useful for short term crisis management... they have serious drawbacks... do not address source of problem or teach people to cope.


uses recordings of the body's physiologica activity, such as heart rate... measured by electrodes on the skin and monitored by a hand held device... patient encouraged to lower the physiological activity by various strategies, such as relaxation... this approach seeks to make the patient able to control the stress response.

** Physiological signals recorded ->>> signals amplified and displayed back via a screen or headphones ->>> patient uses relaxing imagery etc to reduce signals. watching and listening to signals reduces tension **

Evaluation of Drugs

+ Brady = reported a study in which college students suffering tension headaches were given seven 50 min sessions of biofeedback, resulting in significant reductions in headaches.

+ Attanasio = found that it works well with children who see it as a game and are much more optimistic of the results than adults.

+ Budzynski = found that regular biofeedback sessions helped people suffering from chronic muscle contraction headaches, even three months later they had siginificantly reduced muscle tension and had fewer headaches than a control group.

- Masters at al = found that it was no more effective than muscles relaxation alone, this suggests that relaxation training is essential, feedback may not be.

- It may be the sense of control that patients get rather than biofeedback which is beneficial.

- Holroyd and others have shown that simply believing that muscle tension is relaxed can lead to a reduction in tension headaches.


difficult to say how effective biofeedback is, as it is hard to interpret results...

Davidson and Neale said, "there is only limited evidence that biofeedback has any specific effects other than distraction, relaxation and instilling a beneficial sense of control."

Psychological Approaches

progressive muscles relaxation and meditation.

learning about your bodily state and retraining your muscles to relax. meditation also involves a mantro that focuses the person's attention inwards.

Cognitive-behavioural approaches aim to reduce the experience of stress by;

* helping people to perceive the situation accurately.

* improving coping skills by training and practice.

Meichenbaum's Stress-Inoculation Training

three stages;

1. conceptualisation : clients encouraged to relive and analyse stressful situations... discussions (individual or group) sharing experience can help achieve a greater understanding of the nature of stress and the client's reaction.

2. skills training and practice : clients can be taught specific and non-specific strategies of coping... relaxation techniques help them to cope with the initial arousal effects... training helps reduce speciic demands... general relaxation helps to limit stress-induced arousal.

3. real-life application : go out into the real world and put training to the test... contact with therapist continued and follow up sessions provided if necessary.

Evaluation of Stress-Inoculation Training

+ targets symptoms and causes... clients using technique should get a clearer understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, by reviewing how they have coped in the past... more confidence to cope in future.

+ effective... meichenbaum has produced evidence to support this claim - in 1977 he compared the relative benefits of stress inoculation training with desensitisation... patients who had both a phobia of rats and snakes were given treatment for one of these phobias, with either training or desensitisation... both techniques were successful... however training greatly reduced the non-treated phobia too... suggests that self-instruction easily generalises.

- very few controlled studies of this kind carried out... little emperical evidence.

- takes time, commitment and money... less useful for highly stressed people... also individuals differ in how easy they cope.

- the way we cope reflects our personality traits... innate or learned... changing habits and behaviour may be too difficult for some.

Increasing Hardiness

range of personal factors that protect people against negative effects of stress;


3 aspects of procedure to reduce stress;

1. FOCUSING : trained to spot signs of stress response (eg muscle tension).. allows them to identify stressful situations.

2. RELIVING STRESSFUL ENCOUNTERS : clients analyse recent stressful situations and evaluate how well they turned out... allows them to understand how they do cope at the moment.

3. SELF-IMPROVEMENT : clients encourages to take on challenges that they can manage before moving on to more difficult problems... gives them sense of control and mastery, develop belief they can cope with life's challenges.

Evaluation of Increasing Hardiness

+ research evidence... KOBASA rated participants on the presence or absence of three factors; hardiness, social support and regular exercise... when followed up and assessed the p's with no protective factors had more physical and psychological illness... all 3 factors seemed important, but hardiness the most... SARAFINO reports that people who have followed the programme do score higher on hardiness and report feeling less stress and have lower blood pressure.

- theoretical issues... difficult to separate the effects of 3 C's... some evidence for role of challenge and commitment in reducing stress response... most evidence is for control.

- generalisability... supporting studies tend to use middle class businessmen... impossible to generalise to a wider population.

- effectiveness and practicality... few supporting studies of its effectiveness... takes a long time, involves huge commitment and motivation, and tries to change fundamental persnality traits.






Made by Sarah Lewis