Lecture #10 (03/16/2009)
Personality and Health
What is Stress?
Stress is the subjective response, Stressor is the event that causes stress
=Subjective response to life events (so you can have same stressor and different responses to that
- Types of stressors: Acute, episodic acute, traumatic, chronic stressors
o Acute stressors (one time, short duration stressors; don’t last long) this is what
most people would call stress Sudden onset of psychological or physical demands
o Episodic acute stressor would refer to a reoccurring form of acute stress (for
example, when I come home neighbour has a dog, and it barks. It lasts for a short time
but it happens repeatedly and it’s predictable and it’s not controllable. Deal with it for a
short time, repeatedly.
o Traumatic stressor is another form of an acute stressor but it is a very severe acute
stressor. But it differs from acute stressor, cuz of syndrome of responses that occurs
from it. (Ex Post-traumatic stress disorder).
o Chronic stressors are also serious forms of stress, because they are constant. They
may be aspects of our social life or aspects of our physical life. (guy injured his rotator
Stress does not just originate from negative life experiences. When we talk about stress, it can also
derive from subjectively positive events. Key is different perceivers will have different
assessments of these events.
University Graduations, good thing but it’s also stressful.
Weddings can be exciting and stressful.
Children lots of positive feelings and benefits, but it costs money and your responsible for
Home buying is a stressful process
Birthday is fun time, but older we get its more a sign of our mortality than anything else.
Can stem from “negative” and “positive” events
- Perceivers will likely differ in their assessments
Key here is that any event positive or negative can be stressful for right perceiver
Stress is an additive problem Stress and Immune Function
Direct experimental evidence that long-term stress reduces immune function in animals:
o Wound healing takes longer
o Susceptibility to flu is higher
Correlational research on stress in humans: is lacking, not ethical to do these kind of studies on
o People usually deal well with short-term stressors
o Ethically problematic to induce long-term stress
Hans Selye (1907-1982)
Derived the General Adaptation Syndrome
General Adaptation Syndrome - model of stress resistance.
What happens here is, there is a capability within the body to handle stress. And it’s in our
Sympathetic nervous system. Sympathetic nervous system arouses the body, motivating motor
actions. Reducing non-essential processing things like digestion and excretion. Heart rate
increases, breathing rate increases.
Parasympathetic NS responsible for calming things down.
First stage of exposure to stressors, we see what is called an alarm response; the body prepares
itself for action, at first body is not in a resistance state. Decision state of the body, is it
appropriate to continue this response.
Then we see a climbing to some plateau, if stressor continues to be present the body resists at an
above average rate (Resistance). But overtime, cuz body has limited resources, we eventually hit
an exhaustion stage, heavy depletion of resources. It’s not that the immune function is not
working, but its working over capacity.
In Exhaustion state, the body is working as hard as it can but because of the resources at this point
its over taxing the body. Its at this stage, the exhaustion stage that we start to see some somatic
problems, (eg. breakdown of tissues and excesses of chemicals/waste products).
People exposed to chronic stress, change their behavior in weird ways, eat differently, sleep in odd
patterns, conversational styles are different. And this is because the entire body is motivating itself
to action. And when its exhausted the entire body is exhausted. And even if sometime during our
exhaustion state the stressor leaves, we will still be in a below average resistance state for some
time. So if another stressor than appears (2 replace one that left or add one to one that is already
present), body will be even more poor-equipped than usual to deal with that stressor. So to the extent that stress is additive, a new stressor creates more stress, more stressors create
Alarm: Fight-or-flight (sympathetic nervous system)
Resistance: Resources used at above-average rate
Exhaustion: Heavy depletion of resources
Stress Among Students
Look at students in high/low levels of stress and look at their immune responses.
Glaser et al. (1993) took blood samples from healthy medical students who were seropositive for
the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) at two times:
o One month before a block of examinations
o On the last day of the block of examinations
For both samples, compared memory T-cell proliferative responses to EBV polypeptides
o EBV causes mononucleosis, and may play roles in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and certain
-Virus is a long protein chain, protein chains made up of polypetides.
-T-cells are form of white blood cells, these T-Cells are the cells that have a memory of the genetic
signature of virsues that have been encountered by the immune system before. So the memory T
Cells act up when there is a proliferation of some virus that is already resident in the body.
Glaser et al. (1993)
Proliferative response significantly reduced:
o In the ‘exam period’ blood samples (immune response suppressed during the exam period)
o For people who reported seeking social support (tend to have a reduced immune-response
as well) [basically social support can be used as a buffer against stress, so stressed out
people with no support group do the worst of all] This suggests that stress and inadequate social support can impact immune functioning
People’s chronic self-esteem has an influence on health problems they experience. But there’s an
interaction with the quality of social bonds that they have.
So lower self-esteem not only leads to more health problems, but it also tends to reduce the support
network that we have when we have to deal with these sort of problems.
Cohen et al. (1997)
• Obtained reports of stressful events in past year
• Administered nosedrops to all participants:
– Half received nosedrops with weakened cold virus
– Half received plain saline nosedrops (no virus)
can see how many people get sick as a result of this.
N.B. Double-blinded and random assignment to prevent expectancy effects!!
• Number of reported stressors predicted likelihood of developing cold infection
Richard Lazarus (1922-2002) Susan Folkman
Looked at coping styles. Coping Styles
• Lazarus and Folkman (1984) distinguished between two types of appraisals:
– Primary appraisals: “Is this event a threat to me?”
– Primary appraisal: what is this event and what is its relation to me, is it a threat to
me, is it important for me to consider or not? Some things are potential stressor but
if you don’t pay any attention to them, you won’t
– be concerned about them. Poverty in world, “well im not poor so i don’t care” so
is it relevant to you or not.
– Secondary appraisals: “Am I able to handle it?”
– Am I able to cope with this? People may perceive a threat equally as some else but
may vary in the belief in their competency/capability to deal with it.
– Depending on secondary appraisals that people make, they tend to adopt varying
So there are 3 types of coping styles.
• Problem-focused, emotion-focused and avoidance
Avoidance is the easiest to understand, you just avoid it, remove yourself from the situation.
Problem-focused AND emotion-focused have to do with thinking about the emotion itself.
Problem-focused trying to attack the stressor, trying to remove the stressor or alter the stressor
so it doesn’t bring you stress anymore. Get rid of it or lower its impact.
Emotion-focused not removing the stressor but attempting to actively control our personal
responses to that stressor. Maybe we cant do anything about poverty in world, cant do anything
about it, so we might just change our opinion about it or how we think about it change our
thoughts and emotions and reactions to these problems.
– When is each most effective?
– Generally speaking, avoidance is not effective,
– Emotion-focused coping is fairly effective
– Problem-focused coping is arguably the best way to deal with stressors. Downside
is that we can’t always deal with the problem directly. So in that case with problem
focused copers we will be ultimately disappointed. (cuz its kind of like moving a
– In general Problem-focused is the best cuz it would get rid of the stressor but in
practice we cannot deal with all stressors directly; in these cases emotion-focused
coping would be a better option. Avoidance is just not a good approach at all.
• Optimists and pessimists tend to differ in secondary appraisals
Optimists tend to perceive they have the resources to be able to cope with w/e stressors
they face. They perceive these things as challenges. optimists ten