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Chapter 6

PSYC 328 Chapter 6: Chapter 6 Stress

Course Code
PSYC 328
Barbel Knauper

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Chapter 6 Stress
LO1 What is Stress?
Stress: a negative emotional experience + predictable biochemical, physiological, cognitive, and
behavioural changes that are directed either toward altering the stressful event/accommodating to its
What Is a Stressor?
o Initial focus on stressful events themselves: stressors
Stressors: events perceived to be stressful, include noise, crowding, a bad
relationship, a round of job interviews, or the commute to work.
The study of stressors conditions that are more likely to produce stress than others
But this focus on stressful events cannot fully explain the experience of stress.
A stressful experience may be stressful to some people but not to others.
Different people’s perceptions of the stressors are important.
Person-Environment Fit
o Stress consequence of a person’s appraisal processes:
Assessment of whether personal resources are sufficient to meet the demands of the
Person-environment fit determine stress
Stress results from the process of appraising events, assessing potential responses and
responding to those events
o Person-environment fit: degree to which the needs and resources of a person and the needs and
resources of an environment complement each other.
Resources > situation little stress & experience a sense of challenge
Resources maybe enough, but only at the cost of great effort moderate amount of
Resources < environmental stressor a great deal of stress.
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LO2 What Theories and Models are Used to Study Stress?
o Walter Cannon’s (1932)
o Fght-or-flight response: when an organism perceives a threat, the body is rapidly aroused and
motivated via the sympathetic nervous system and the endocrine system. This concerted
physiological response mobilizes the organism to attack the threat or to flee
Adrenomedullary responses to stress—specifically, catecholamine secretion
o Once literally referred to fighting or fleeing in response to stressful events
E.g. attack by a predator.
o Now, more commonly
Fght = aggressive responses to stress
Fight = social withdrawal / withdrawal through substance use such as alcohol or drugs.
o It is adaptive enables the organism to respond quickly to a threat.
o It can be harmful stress disrupts emotional and physiological functioning, and when stress
continues unabated, it lays the groundwork for health problems.
Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome
o Hans Selye’s (1956, 1976): the “father” of the field of stress research
Initially intended to explore the effects of sex hormones on physiological functioning, he
became interested in the stressful impact
Exposed rats to a variety of stressors, observed their physiological responses
All stressors, regardless of type, produced the same pattern of physiological responding
enlarged adrenal cortex
shrinking of the thymus and lymph glands
ulceration of the stomach and duodenum
o General adaptation syndrome: when an organism confronts a stressor, it mobilizes itself for
action. The response itself is nonspecific with respect to the stressor (same physiological pattern
of reactions). Over time, with repeated or prolonged exposure to stress, there will be wear and
tear on the system.
Closely explored adrenocortical responses to stress
Cornerstone of the field of stress
Led to the development of other conceptualizations of the physiological effects of stress
o Three phases
Alarm: organism becomes mobilized to meet the threat.
Resistance: organism makes efforts to cope with the threat, as through confrontation.
Exhaustion: occurs if the organism fails to overcome the threat and depletes its
physiological resources in the process of trying
o This model continues to influence the field of stress today.
Offers a general theory of reactions to a wide variety of stressors over time provides
a way of thinking about the interplay of physiological and environmental factors
Posits a physiological mechanism for the stressillness relationship repeated or
prolonged exhaustion of resource (third phase) is responsible for the physiological
damage that lays the groundwork for disease
prolonged or repeated stress implicated in a broad array of disorders:
cardiovascular disease, arthritis, hypertension, and immune-related deficiencies
o Criticisms
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Assigns a very limited role to psychological factors, researchers now believe the
psychological appraisal of events is important in the determination of stress
Because Selye focused on animals, not humans.
Assumption that responses to stress are uniform, now there is evidence that not all
stressors produce the same endocrinological responses, how people respond to stress is
substantially influenced by their personalities, perceptions, and biological constitutions.
Selye assessed stress as an outcome, but people experience many of the debilitating
effects of stress while a stressful event is going on and even in anticipation of its
o Taylor (2000)
o Tend-and-befriend: in addition to fight-or-flight, humans respond to stress with social and
nurturant behaviour. Befriending (affiliating with others and seeking social contact during
stress) may be esp. characteristic of females and may help in self-preservation and the
protection of offspring
Brings social behaviour into stress processes
o Animals + human also affiliate with each other when facing stress
o Evolutionary theory: males and females faced sdifferent adaptive challenges.
Men hunting and protection,
Women foraging and child care
Responses to stress would have evolved so as to protect self + offspring
True for both human and most animals
o It may depend on underlying biological mechanisms - hormone oxytocin
Oxytocin: stress hormone, rapidly released in response to at least some stressful events,
effects are especially influenced by estrogen,
Act as an impetus for affiliation.
Numerous animal and human studies show that oxytocin increases affiliative behaviours
of all kinds
Mothering, warm touching between couples
Animals and humans with high levels of oxytocin are calmer and more relaxed
social and nurturant behaviour
Opioids may also contribute to affiliative responses to stress in
Evidence women are consistently more likely than men to respond to stress by
turning to others
Noted in female university
Mothers’ responses to offspring during stress also appear to be different from
those of fathers in ways encompassed by the tend-and-befriend theory
Male and female infants respond differently to parental stress
o As mother’s frightening behaviour increased, female infants approached
their mothers for comfort > male infants
Men show social responses to stress, but less is known about men’s social responses to
If the stressor is social in nature, may be equally applicable to both men and women
Public speaking task to induce acute psychosocial stress: men responded with
more positive social behaviours
o E.g. trust and sharing behaviour in social interactions
We are affiliative creatures who respond to stress collectively, as well as individually,
and these responses are characteristic of men as well as women.
Psychological Appraisal and the Experience of Stress
o In humans, psychological appraisals are an important determinant of whether an event is
responded to as stressful
o Primary Appraisal Processes
Lazarus (1968; 1984),
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