Section 1 Two bodily responses to Stress:
S.A.M (Sympathetic Adreno-medullary Pathway)
This is the acute (immediate) response to stress (it uses electrical signals). Higher brain areas (Cortex)
detect and perceive something as a stressor, triggering the Hypothalamus, which in turn activates the
Sympathetic branch of the Autonomic nervous system, stimulating the Adrenal Medulla, producing
two hormones, Adrenaline and Noradrenaline, which cause the Fight or Flight response, which causes
bodily changes and has evolved for survival.
Bodily changes may include: an increase in heart rate (to carry around oxygen around the body qui; an)
increase in blood pressure (veins and arteries narrow so blood pumps ; an increase in muscle tension
(which increases reaction tand the dilation of pupils (helps one to be more aware of one’s surroundings).
H.P.A (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis)
This is the chronic (slow, long-term) response to stress. Higher brain areas (Cortex) detect and
perceive something as a stressor, triggering the Hypothalamus, which in turn release the hormone
CRF, which activates the Pituitary gland in the brain, releasing the hormone A.C.T.H, which activates
in the Adrenal Cortex – this releases corticosteroids (e.g. cortisol) that cause the liver to release
glucogen (fats and sugar), which provide continued energy for the Fight or Flight response. In the
long term, corticosteroids can suppress the immune system.
How stress can affect illness:
This is where stress directly causes an illness of the malfunction of the immune system. For example,
coronary heart disease has been shown to the have a link with the S.A.M response. It is caused by
increased heart rate and narrowed arteries (which are results of the Fight or Flight response,
brought about by the S.AM response) which cause increased fats and sugars blocking arteries, as
well as putting more pressure on the heart. High blood pressure and strokes are also linked to
This is where stress may make people more vulnerable to illness, as it may weaken the immune
system. Some people inherit a weak immune system and stress may make them even worse. Lifestyle
also affects the immune system and stress may cause such behaviours to increase. For example,
when one is stressed they may turn to drinking, drug and tobacco use, etc or change their sleeping
and eating habits – or even going out all night partying. All these things can suppress the immune
system if done frequently. The relationship between stress and illness may be seen as very complex.
Research into stress and illness
Keicolt-Glaser et al (medical student study)
The aim of this study was to see if exam stress may affect the functioning of the immune system; it
was therefore a natural experiment, using a volunteer sample (which consisted of 75 first-year
medical students) and repeated measures. The procedure was as follows: blood samples were taken
of all the students one month before their exams (this was defined as a low stress period) and again
on the first day of their exams (this was defined as a high stress period). These blood samples
measured the participants’ immune functioning by counting the number of leucocytes (natural killer
cells & T cells) - if there was a high number, this meant a strong immune system. If they were low, it meant the opposite. It was found that in the high stress period, the number of killer cells and T
cells were low, whilst in the low stress period, the number was high. There was, therefore, a negative
correlation between exam stress and immune functioning. It was concluded that there was indeed a
link between the two – exam stress is associated with immunosuppression. However, stress is only
one factor that may affect the immune system.
A weakness of this study is the sample – they were all first year medical students – this is not
representative as the group cannot be generalised to other students, ages or groups. Also, they are
volunteers – the sample is therefore biased as volunteers are ‘unusual’ or ‘extra-motivated’ – it lacks
population validity, which in turn leads to an inability to generalise. However, Keicolt-Glaser has
carried out research using Alzheimer’s carers and married couples and found similar results – this
makes the findings of this study more reliable and is in fact can be generalised to slightly more
It is also a natural experiment; therefore the study has high ecological validity and mundane realism
as the situation was real and was not manipulated by the experimenter. As it is such a natural
situation, there is also a significantly smaller chance of participants responding to demand
characteristics; it is unlikely that they were able to consciously affect their blood test. However,
this type of experiment essentially means that no extraneous variables that could potentially affect
the results were controlled – therefore, we cannot be sure that the level of stress is what affected
immune functioning alone. There are many other factors, including lifestyle and genetics, which were
not considered – this questions the validity of the results. It is also impossible to replicate the
experiment and therefore we cannot see if the results found in this study are reliable.
The findings of this experiment were merely a correlation, therefore it only proves that there may be
a relationship between the two co-variables – this is positive in the sense that it avoids ethical issues
as no variables are being manipulated, merely measured – the ‚participants were protected from
harm‛ as no stress was deliberately caused. However, correlations mean that it can never be
proved that the exam stress caused the change in immune functioning due to the other
(confounding) variables that have not been controlled or taken into account such as medical
conditions and lifestyle (such as sleep problems and eating habits etc.).
The method used to measure immune functioning has been deemed as inadequate – the immune
system is complex - T-cells and natural killer cells are only one aspect – it is therefore too simplistic
and difficult to know whether the immune system is weak from this alone – different parts may be
stronger to compensate for it, such as fast wound healing.
Keicolt-Glaser (Alzheimer’s carers and married couples)
She tested the impact that conflict between spouses could have on the length of time wounds took
to heal. It was found that blister wounds on the arms of husbands and wives healed more slowly
after a conflicting discussion or argument – this was seen more in women than in men.
She also found that carers of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers took significantly longer to heal minor
arm wounds. Looking after the relative or the patient (a major stressor) may have suppressed the
immune system which can be dangerous.
However, these studies use a very small and unrepresentative sample, therefore they lack population
validity and they cannot be generalised. They were also natural experiments, and therefore we
cannot prove cause and effect, nor see if the results are reliable as we cannot replicate them – there
may be other factors – genetics, the type of stress, personality, culture etc. that may cause the
Cohen et al (Common cold study)
This was a lab experiment and 394 volunteers were exposed to the cold virus. Their level of stress
was then assessed via a questionnaire. It was found that there was a positive correlation between
stress level and the likelihood of developing a cold.
However, questionnaires were used – these may be unreliable as participants are liable to giving
socially desirable answers which therefore questions the validity of the results generated by the questionnaire. Also, the findings were only a correlation, so it cannot be proved that stress caused
the cold as there are other variables that were not controlled. Volunteers were also used, so the
study is lacking in population validity and is not representative.
Marucha et al (dental students and biopsy study)
The effect that stress had on healing was tested on 11 dental student volunteers. They underwent a
small biopsy on the roof of their mouth at two occurrences; the first being at the beginning of their
summer holidays (defined as low stress) and the second six weeks before exams (defined as high
stress). The healing of the wound was monitored and recorded, using videos of the mouth. The rate
of reduction in wound size was measured at the two levels of stress. It was found that students were
40% slower to recover in the ‚high stress‛ period. This suggests that stress can affect how long it
takes a wound to heal as the immune system is suppressed.
However, this study uses a very small and unrepresentative sample, therefore it lacks population
validity and it cannot be generalised. They were also natural experiments, and therefore we
cannot prove cause and effect, nor see if the results are reliable as we cannot replicate them – there
may be other factors – genetics, the type of stress, personality, culture etc. that may cause the
Stressors – Life Changes & Daily Hassles
Life Changes and research into it.
These are major changes or events in your life that tend to be rare or’ one-off’. They happen rarely
and would be considered quite ‚large‛; they require significant change, adjustment or transition and
to an individual this can cause stress. Examples include getting a divorce, a death of a relative or a
friend, redundancy or a pregnancy.
Dr. Holmes and Dr. Rahe noticed that the patients they treated had undergone both positive and
negative life events which all required transition, which would expend energy – Holmes & Rahe
believed that this expenditure of energy is what is stressful and may affect health, causing illness.
The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (The SRRS) (Describe research into life changes and stress-
Developed by Holmes & Rahe, this scale was designed to measure life changes as to how stressful
they are. It contains 43 life events which all have a score or (life change unit). Participants normally
have to ‚tick‛ all the events that have happened to them in the past year and add up the scores – if
the life change unit was above 150, it was predicted a 30% increase in the likelihood of developing a
stress-related illness – if the life change was above 300, there was a 50% increase. Events included
‚Death of a Spouse (100), Divorce (73), Marriage (50), Christmas (12), Change in financial state (50)
and Jail (63)‛.
However, individual differences are not taken into account at all; the scores are practically arbitrary
and how stressful an event is may be subjective. For example, making an ‚Outstanding Achievement‛
was given a score of 25, yet many would not find this stressful at all. Just the opposite in fact, they
may find it elating. However, the scale insists this is stress anyway – it cannot be applied to all
The scale is also vague; it is unclear whether many of the events are positive or negative – mostly it
just states ‚a change‛- for example, ‚a change in financial state‛ may be positive or negative.
Evidence suggests that only change that is undesired, unscheduled and uncontrollable is stressful,
but this is not taken into account. The scale is outdated, androcentric and ethnocentric. The life events do not apply to modern society;
e.g. ‚Large Mortgage ($10,000) – it lacks historic/temporal validity. It can be seen as andocentric as it
reflects a male dominant era (e.g. ‚Wife begins or stops work‛) and is also specific to Western
cultures as events like Christmas and Church are on the list, therefore not applying to other
Rahe’s naval study (Describe research into life changes and stress-related illnesses)
Rahe et al investigated the link between life change unit scores on the SSRS scale and illness. An
opportunity sample of 2,664 American naval personnel that were about to go on a 6 month tour of
duty. The participants carried out the SRRS before their tour, noting the events that had happened
in the last six months. Whilst the participants were on their tour, detailed medical records were kept
and were given illness score. These illness scores were then correlated with their life change unit
scores. A weak, positive correlation (+0.118) between life change unit scores and illness scores was
found. It was concluded that there was a relationship between the two but as it is so weak, there are
other important factors.
An opportunity sample was used which may cause a problem as the participants are selected by the
experimenter and therefore are not representative. We cannot generalise to other groups, females,
other professions or nationalities as participants were all American, male and members of the navy.
It therefore lacks population validity. Pertaining to their occupation, we can imagine that
members of the navy would in fact be particularly healthy or less likely to admit to injury and/or
resilient to stress.
A self-report measure (questionnaire) was used – these are unreliable as participants are subjected
to giving socially desirable responses – they may as well have been reluctant to admit to an event on
the SRRS scale that was overly personal and sensitive that may cause embarrassment (Jail, perhaps).
The study relies on retrospective information – participants had to recall events, therefore relying on
memory which may be interchangeable, inaccurate or unreliable.
The findings are merely a correlation, and a weak one at that – it cannot prove that stress causes
illness. It only proves a link– in fact; it does not even do this as it was so weak (+0.118) – we cannot
draw any real conclusions or information from it, except that there are many other factors involved,
such as behaviour or drug abuse.
Daily Hassles and research into it. (Explain why daily hassles may cause stress.)
These are continuous, minor, frequent, common occurrences that cause us stress, even more so if
they are extremely inconvenient. They trigger the body’s stress responses repeatedly and so many
would say that they are a more significant source of stress than daily hassles. Examples include
missing the bus, a computer crash or a traffic jam.
They may have an accumulating effect in which they build up and as the stress response is triggered
so many times, it may lead to illness. They may also have an amplification effect - daily hassles can
‘tip you over the edge’ if you are trying to cope with a major life event – (for example, if say, your
partner were to die, and some time later, you were trying to watch TV but it stops working and you
break down crying and screaming) - you may experience an amplified level of distress at something
Hassles and Uplifts Scale (Describe research into daily hassles and stress-related illnesses)
This contained over one hundred hassles and uplifts in which one had to assess how often common,
trivial events were irritating/elating to them (using a rating system of 0 (never), 5, (sometimes), 10 (frequently). The score for each hassle would be added up, and if the total were to come to more
than 70, you were at risk from illness. However, the same would be done for uplifts, which would
bring down the hassle score.
Kanner, Lazarus et al devised such a scale and found a positive correlation between hassles and
physical illness, depression and anxiety.
De Longis, Bouteyre and other research (Describe research into daily hassles and stress-related
De Longis et al compared scores on the SSRS and Hassles and Uplifts scale. She found no link
between life events and illness but found a positive correlation between daily hassles and next day ill
health (flu, aches and sore throats). It was concluded that daily hassles may be more important than
life events as a source of stress.
However, as this was merely a correlation, we cannot prove that daily hassles cause next day ill
health as all the factors and extraneous variables have not been controlled. She also gathered her
data using self-report measures which are considered unreliable because we may give socially
desirable answers and memory itself is not accurate – all this questions the validity of the findings.
Bouteyre et al found a positive correlation between daily hassles and mental health issues (more
specifically depression) in students who had just started university.
Research has also shown that daily hassles accumulate throughout the day; the stress of these builds
up and makes further stressors more severe. It has also been found, however, that uplifts (positive,
minor experiences such as a compliment) are able to balance out or reduce the effects of daily
Factors that make work stressful
1) Lack of control
There is evidence to suggest that people may feel more stressed if they have little or no control
in their job. For example, they may not be given any freedom over their work hour or rota,
holiday time, the people they work with, their breaks, uniforms or their salary or wages.
Marmot’s study supports the idea that low control is associated with high stress.
2) Role conflict
Stress may be experienced when workers must balance between two roles, their professional and
their personal/home role – if they feel they are struggling to perform adequately in either or
dedicate an equal amount of time and effort to both of their responsibilities, they may feel a
large amount of stress. Parents with young children who must also work may suffer from this
‘role conflict’ or those who must care for ill relatives as well as earn a living.
3) Environmental Factors
Stress generated by the workplace may be linked to environmental stressors (a noisy atmosphere,
high temperature, poor/artificial lighting). These make workers uncomfortable, so brings about
stress (as well as the flight or fight response) which impact health negatively.
Marmot et al (Describe research into workplace stress)
The aim of this study was to investigate the link between workplace stress and illness. Marmot
argued that jobs with high demand and low control created the most stress (his job strain model).
7,372 civil servants (of which were both male and female volunteers from London) answered a
questionnaire and were checked for signs of cardiovascular disease. Job control and demand were measured using self-report surveys and observations by managers. Records were kept of stress-
related illnesses and other variables were correlated. This was a longitudinal study so five years
later the participants were reassessed.
It was found that participants that were ‘higher up’ in the profession had the fewest cardiovascular
problems. Those with low job control were four times more likely to die of heart attacks than
those that had high control – they were also more likely to suffer from cancers, stroke and gastric
ulcers. In short, it was found that there was a negative correlation between job control and illness.
It was concluded that low control is associated with high stress and stress-related illnesses;
although there was little to support the claim that high demand was associated with stress. This
implies that control can be a major stressor and should be addressed to reduce work place stress
The sample used was unrepresentative and biased – only one profession (civil servants) was
focused on and therefore cannot be generalised to all workplaces. It also only represents a busy,
western city and culture as the study was carried out in London – it does not apply to non-
western (collectivist) cultures. Also, as the participants were volunteers, they may be ‘motivated’ or
‘unusual’ and do not represent all, making the findings biased. Also, as this was a longitudinal
study, there is the problem of participant attrition as people can drop out as time goes on, which
makes the sample even more biased and the findings unreliable. Overall, the sample lacks
Questionnaires and self-report measures were used to gather information on job control and health
– however these methods may be unreliable as participants can give socially desirable answers, as
well as forget due to memory (retrospective) and therefore question the validity of the findings.
The result found was a mere correlation and so we cannot prove that low control causes stress.
There may have been other factors such as diet, sleep, habits, genetics and lifestyle that could have
caused the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases. The findings may have been affected by the low
socioeconomic status that many of the participants with lower control positions had – therefore,
likelihood of illnesses may be due to financial problems, a poor diet to the lack of money etc.
Individual differences are not taken into account either; people may react differently to stress and
control according to factors such as personality, gender, age and culture – Schaubroeck found that
workers responded differently to lack of control. Indeed some may see it positively, as they do not
have to think for themselves nor take responsibility. Some people may see failures at work as their
fault, which causes immense stress, even more so if they are given high control in their job.
Overall Evaluation of Workplace Stress
There seem to have been practical applications from research – namely that stress can be reduced
by giving control (over their hours, uniform and ‘duvet days’ which make employees relaxed),
offering methods to cope with role conflict (crèche for young children, flexibility in hours and paid
leave for family/personal emergencies) as well as offering relaxation classes, therapy and spas on
Section 2 – Stress in Everyday Life
Personality Factors and stress
It has been suggested that a reason as to why some people are more sensitive to stressors than
others is due to personality type. Personality may modify how people experience stressors. For example, Type A behaviour seems to increase the effects of a stressor whilst Type B and ‘Hardy’
Type behaviour seem to decrease the effect.
Characteristics of ‚Type A‛ (Describe and explain why Type A behaviour is linked to stress/illness)
They are known to be excessively competitive to the extent where they may not play unless they are
confident that they will win. Therefore, if they lose, the stress responses are triggered.
They may be impatient and time-pressured – they tend to work to deadlines, attempting to multi-
task and are unhappy having nothing to do. If they are made to wait, miss a deadline or are late, the
stress-response will be triggered.
They may be hostile, easily angered and aggressive – quick-tempered, easily vexed and may direct
anger at others or to themselves. The smallest things may trigger the stress responses repeatedly.
They may move and speak quickly, and act intensely – they may move excessively and are never
calm, serene, slow ors till. Therefore, their fidgeting for example is the result of the stress response.
These characteristics cause the SAM and HPA response that in the long term, leads to raised heart
rate and blood pressure, as well as a heightened level of stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenalin,
and cortisol) which are all heavily associated with illness. Type As are associated with an increase in
the chance of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Friedman and Rosenman (Research into Type As and Stress-related Illness)
These doctors noticed that some of their patients who had heart conditions were extremely
impatient and fidgety whilst waiting to be seen. They argued that they had a specific personality
type (A) that was more likely in heart patients, and carried out a study to investigate this.
Friedman and Rosenman developed a questionnaire to distinguish between the two personality types.
They also used structured interviews (with closed questions) and observations (in which they looked
for signs of impatience, anger and fidgeting). With the information gathered, they categorised over
3,200 male volunteers from San Francisco, between the ages of 39-59 (the risk age) into types A, B
and X (a mix of A and B). At the beginning of the study, all the participants were free from heart
disease and other lifestyle factors (smoking, diet, obesity etc) were controlled. As this was a
longitudinal study, the participants were followed up 8.5 years later and their health was assessed.
It was found that in the time away, there had been 257 heart attacks, and 70% of these were Type
As. Type As were also twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease than type Bs, they also had
the highest level of adrenaline, noradrenalin and cholesterol (brought about by the recurrent
triggering of the SAM and HPA responses). A positive correlation between type As and coronary
heart disease as found.
It was concluded that Type As were more vulnerable to heart disease.
However, the findings only found a correlation so there was no control over all the extraneous
variables and we cannot conclude that if an individual has heart disease, it is because ‘they are type
A‛ or vice versa. There may have been events or changes over the 8.5 years which may have played a
Self-report measures were used and as people are always liable to giving socially desirable answers it
makes the findings unreliable – it is easy to change yourself to come out as a certain personality
type. Observations were also used, which can lead to unreliability as behaviour is interpreted
There are also problems with the sample that was used – firstly, it is androcentric as only men were
used and therefore we cannot generalise to females (although at the time of the study, men were
known to be more likely to suffer from heart disease). It is also ethnocentric (culture-biased) as only
men from San Francisco were used and so it may only represent Western cultures, or merely the USA, perhaps not even the USA as the sample was limited to San Francisco (although this was
probably for the convenience of the researchers, as well as the fact that the USA has the highest
rates of heart disease). Overall, the sample lacks population validity.
There is a lack of consistent research that supports the link between Type A behaviour and heart
disease – this study has been replicated but has not found similar results, which suggests that their
findings are unreliable. Research has suggested that hostility is the only trait of Type A personalities
that is correlated with heart disease – other aforementioned traits may not be dangerous.
Hardiness (Hardy Personality type)
Maria Kobasa suggests that ‘hardiness’ helps is to understand why some are resistant to stress. It is a
range of factors and traits that defend us from the negative effects of stress. There are three
characteristics (known as ‘the 3 Cs’):
1) Control – An individual believes that they are the sole influential factor in their life – that is to
say, they feel they have complete control over their lives and its events. This belief is empowering
and enables one to defend himself against stress.
2) Commitment – An individual’s awareness of their own purpose and sense of involvement in the
world and of their own life. They see the world as something they should connect with rather
than avoid. They are unlikely to give up in stressful situations and display perseverance.
3) Challenge – An individual may see changes or events in life as obstacles that they are able to
overcome, even as opportunities that will enable them to grow as a person instead of
threats/stressors. It is seen as a learning experience.
There is a great deal of research that supports the idea that this personality type promotes stress
resilience. Research by Kobasa herself (bias elements) has found that people who scored highly on
‘The 3 Cs’ questionnaire had fewer stress related problems. However, Kobasa used self-report
measures to measure ‘hardiness’ which is unreliable as those who take it can give socially
undesirable answers. Regardless, this research has provided important practical applications –
therapies have been produced based on ‘hardiness’ that work on preventing stress.
Approaches to coping with stress (Problem focused and Emotion focused)
Problem-focused approach to stress
This is an active coping strategy which deals with the actual stressor, aiming directly to alleviate the
stressful situation a targets the causes of the stressor – it is used when the stressor is/seems
Strategies include taking control of the stressful situation (e.g. stressed about exams, making a logical revision
timetable),evaluating the pros and cons of different options to deal with the stressor (e.g. advantages and
disadvantages of having a surgerysuppressing ‘competing’ activities (avoiding procrastination and distraction of
other things, e.g. shutting of the internet when you need to rand seeking support and advice from others
(e.g. information that is practical and informed, like gaining advice from teachers around exam time).
Emotion-focused approach to stress
This is a passive coping strategy which deals with negative emotions that are produced by the
stressor. It attempts to deal with the emotional distress that an individual feels due to a stressful
event (reduces arousal). It is used when the stressor seems or is uncontrollable.
Strategies include denial (cognitive strategy that involves pretending that the stressor does not exist, carrying on as
normal and as a result you do not feel the negative emotions, like denying that you have a seriou; distraction
(cognitive strategy that involves doing other things so you don’t think about the stressor or have time to deal with it,
avoiding the stressor itself and the negative emotions it brings about, for example, after a break up if you throw yourself
into your job so that you don’t have to think abou; focusing on venting the emotions of the stressor (e.g. having temper tantrums, shouting, screaming, becoming aggressive to express the emotions you feel because of the
stressor to ‘let of steam’, e.g. snapping at someone for no reason because you we; using wishful thinking
(a cognitive strategy which tends to dwell on what might have been or could have happened, or even trying to see the
stressor as positive, e.g. if you fail a mock exam thinking ‚Ah, it’s only a mock, it’s not important...‛ or ‚If only I’d
revised., turning to food, drugs, alcohol, smoking, solvents etc (when one is stressed out they may turn to
drugs or alcohol so that they can deal with the event; if someone died and you were to drink a lot,andr example)
using humour or light-heartedness (when you attempt to make fun of or lighten a stressor as it reduces the
negative emotions, turning them into uplifts, e.g. if you’re nervous for an exam and beforehand you make jokes of
everything or even if you watch sitcom to calm yourself down).
Evaluation of these coping strategies
When deciding whether emotion or problem focused is most effective, a number of factors should
be considered. The effectiveness of the coping strategy depends on the type of stressor. Factors
affecting this include:
1) Whether the stressor is controllable or not – If the stress is controllable, than problem-focused is
more effective whilst if it is uncontrollable, emotion-focused is. In 2002, Penley found that
problem focused coping was associated with better health whereas emotion focused coping was
associated with poor health. For example, if you were diagnosed with heart disease, problem
focused strategies would include changing your lifestyle and diet, whereas if you used emotion
focused, you would try and carry on as a normal and refuse to deal with the issue. However, if it
was something like cancer, this is uncontrollable, so you are better trying to distract yourself
from the issue as you cannot affect it. In 1983, Collins studied people living near to a nuclear
power plant that had a serious accident in earlier years. Residents feared that radiation would
leak but this was essentially uncontrollable – in fact, he found when faced with an uncontrollable
situation, an emotion focused approach is much more effective, such as distraction or humour.
2) The individual:
a) Gender – it has been found that males are more likely to use a problem focused approach
where was females are more likely to use the emotion focused approach. However, this may
be due to the way we are socialised and this feeds gender stereotypes. For example, women
are stereotypically seen as more emotional and passive whilst men are more active.
b) Age – the younger you are, the less effective a problem focused approach will be for you. In
2006, Lee found that children who needed blood tests were less stressed if they were
distracted (an emotion focused approach) by given a toy to play with whilst their blood was
taken than if there were no distractions. This also suggests that uncontrollable events need
an emotion focused approach, as well as if you are a child. Children are not as mentally
developed to come up with practical, active solutions to a stressor.
Overall, we can say that in actuality, both approaches are used as we adapt them to our
situations. Problem focused and emotion focused approaches are most effective when used
together as they both are important in helping us cope. Lazarus explained this with the example
of coping with the death of a loved one - at first, we would be sure to display emotion-focused
coping strategies (e.g. crying and releasing all the emotions), but over time problem focused will
be increasingly effective as it will enable you to build your life again without that person. You
must deal with the emotions before practically coming to a solution.
Physiological and Psychological Methods of Stress Management (Drugs and Therapies)
Physiological Methods (E.g. Benzodiazepines and Beta-blockers)
These drugs try and change activity of the body, be it organs or hormone levels. They try to
reduce the effects of the flight or fight responses. The two I learnt were Benzodiazepines (BZs)
and Beta-blockers (BBs). Essay questions are likely may prop up on these – to describe and
evaluate the drugs, how they work, the advantages and disadvantages of using them.
These drugs are most commonly used to treat stress & anxiety. Examples of trade names of
which these are sold under are valium and Librium. Benzodiazepines work directly on the brain and the central nervous system. They slow down the activity of the CNS by increasing the activity
of the neurotransmitter GABA (the body’s natural form of anxiety/stress relief). GABA slows
down nerve activity which in turn make a person feel relaxed. Benzodiazepines bind to GABA
receptors in the brain, boosting their action. Therefore, the brain’s release of stress inducing
chemicals is reduced, making an individual feel calmer.
An advantage of Benzodiazepines is that they are very quick in relation to some therapies – they
are guaranteed to immediately reduce stress, as they literally prevent the stress response
occurring. This is reassuring to a patient as they are sure it will work.
Another advantage is that the fact that these drugs are effective is supported by scientific
research – in 1986, Kahn investigated 250 patients over 8 weeks and found that benzodiazepines
were more effective at reducing stress than placebos and other drugs. Such research gives the
drug scientific credibility.
Also, benzodiazepines are effortless for the patient to take – it is an easy, quick and economical
method – the only thing the patient must do is simply take a tablet. It is also cheaper than
therapies and definitely works where as therapy might not work. It is inconvenient to take time
out for therapies. Benzodiazepines are especially good when dealing with short-term stressor –
life events may be such a huge shock that a drug such as these if used over a short period will
help manage their initial stress.
A disadvantage of Benzodiazepines is that they can have serious side effects, including sedation,
tiredness, motor coordination impairment, memory impairment, reduced concentration and lack
of energy – all these side effects interfere with the patient’s ability to function adequately and
therefore it is important that these are not used as a long-term solution.
Another disadvantage is that Benzodiazepines can cause addiction – they can cause dependency
and some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if taken for too long, such as insomnia, sweating,
tremors and convulsions. Therefore, it is recommended that patients take these for no longer
than four weeks. Their usefulness is therefore limited as they may become more dangerous as
time goes on.
These also cure symptoms rather than treat the cause. They do not deal with the underlying
problems; if you were to stop taking the drug, your stressful symptoms would surely return.
These drugs are best used in combination with therapies.
Ethical issues may also be an issue as patients should be informed of all side effects and give full
consent – some would argue by supplying this drug, you are putting the patient at risk to harm.
These drugs are also used to treat stress management although the difference between these and
Benzodiazepines is that these work directly on the internal organs that are used in the SAM
response rather than the brain. Beta-blockers reduce adrenaline and noradrenalin. These
hormones normally attach to cells around the heart and blood vessels – beta-blockers work by
blocking the receptors on the cells in these areas and therefore the organs are not stimulated as a
result of the flight of fight response. Therefore, heart rate does not increase and the blood vessels
do not constrict, keeping heart rate and blood pressure low, which makes a person more relaxed
An advantage of Beta-Blockers is that there have been many instances of real-life applications
where they have proven to be effective in reducing stress, particularly in musical and sport
related performances. It has shown to help steady nerves in golfers and snooker players by giving
them a stable hand. Lockwood investigated 2000 musicians (27% took Beta-Blockers and received
better reviews from critics).
They also act rapidly – they are quicker, more effective and cheaper than therapies. They also
have a life saving function to those suffering of hypertension (high blood pressure) in that they
reduce blood pressure, preventing stroke. They are also better than Benzodiazepines in the sense that there are no serious side effects –
most people who take these are able to function normally. They act on the body rather than the
brain and so there are no problems of dependency or addiction.
However, a disadvantage of Beta-Blockers is that recently they have been shown to have a link
with diabetes when taken for a long time, so like Benzodiazepines there are only a short term
Beta-blockers also cure symptoms rather than treat the cause. They do not deal with the
underlying problems; if you were to stop taking the drug, your stressful symptoms would surely
return. They are best used in combination with therapies.
Psychological Methods (Stress Inoculation Therapy and Increasing Hardiness)
These therapies aim to reduce the effects of a stressor to an individual, and hopefully train them
to be immune to or be able to cope better with any future stressors. They aim to promote
resilience to stress. This can be done by altering the way an individual deals with stressors or
how they are perceived. The two I learnt were Stress Inoculation Therapy (SIT – Meichenbaum, a
form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and Increasing Hardiness (Maddi & Kobasa) to manage
stress. Essay questions may prop up on these – to describe and evaluate the therapies and the
advantages of using them.
Stress Inoculation Therapy
This was developed by Meichenbaum designed to prepare people for future stressors by making
them resilient to these. In this therapy (abbreviated to SIT), the individual develops a better
method of coping with the stressor and learns to perceive it accurately to effectively inoculate
oneself from stress. There are three phases:
1) Conceptualisation – This is where a relationship is established between the therapist and the
client so that there is trust between them. The client is also educated about the nature of
stress. The client mentally relives stressful situations, analysing how s/he normally deals with
them and tries to reach a realistic understanding of what is expected of them. The client is
taught to see stressors as ‘problems to be solved’ and to break them down into more
manageable components – the client thinks over typical stressors again. (For example, if you were
stressed about exams and the possibility of failing, and therefore distract yourself from revising properly, the
therapist may teach you to think about it sensibly, in that it is not possible to get 100% in every exam but you
will be able to do well if you break down your revision into a manageable schedule).
2) Skills training and practice – This is where the client is taught both specific and non-specific
coping strategies to help him/her cope with stressors more effectively. Examples of non-
specific strategies are relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing and progressive
muscle relaxation. Non-specific skills can be applied to any stressor but specific coping skills
will be taught so the client can deal with a particular thing that causes them stress. (For
example, a specific skill for exam revision may be to know the specification for the exam in great detail, learning
time management skills etcThese skills are practised until the client has mastered them and can
use them confidently. They may be given positive ways of thinking (e .g. ‚I’ll do welso that
they react well and change their views about the stressor .
3) Real life application & Follow up – This is where the client must put the skills they have
learnt to use in their lives. The therapist takes the client through stressful situations by
teaching them to apply the skills to these new stressors. The client maintains contact with
the therapist and if there are further problems, the client returns back to training. This
reinforcement of positive behaviour means that resilience to stress is sustained.
An advantage of SIT is that it deals with the underlying causes of a person’s stress rather than
dealing with the symptoms alone. For this reason, they are more useful than drugs as the person
understands the causes of their stress and how to prevent it – this therapy can reduce people’s
stress in all future situations with the skills they have learnt in this short therapy. It is also a
long-term, long-lasting solution – the techniques and skills the individual learns in SIT stay with
them for life and can apply it to any stressor – it gives an individual the ability to control their
stress in the present and future whereas with drugs once you stop taking them, the stress returns. Additionally, SIT is extremely flexible in that it can be adapted to deal with acute and
chronic stressors – a wide variety – daily hassles, work stress, public speaking, exams, pain, death
etc – whereas drugs are temporary and limited. Also, the effectiveness of SIT is supported by
research, studies on law students and athletes have found that this therapy boosted their
performance and reduced their anxiety. This gives it scientific credibility.
Weaknesses of SIT include the fact that it requires a large deal of time, effort, motivation and
money on the patient’s part – the therapy will only work if the patient is determined to cure
their stress. It can take weeks and months for the therapy to complete – it is costly, and requires
commitment – some may turn to drugs as it is simply more convenient to take these. It is also
a complex technique so there is a lack of therapists that have been adequately trained – this
keeps the cost of the therapies high as well as the waiting list. SIT could be simplified so it could
be mastered with more ease. Also, it is not possible for SIT to work for all clients – it is
difficult or often near impossible to change aspects of one’s personality or their ways of thinking
– this can be problematic as some people will always react badly to stressors and the therapy
may even make them worse.
Increasing Hardiness (Maddi & Kobasa)
This therapy is based on the aforementioned ‚hardy personality type‛ - Maddi & Kobasa believed
that having traits associated with this type could make people practically immune to stress and
devised a way to teach it to individuals. There are three stages:
1) Focusing – This is where the client is trained to spot and stop physical signs of stress (such
as muscle tension, high heart rate, anxiety, headaches, ease to cry/get angry, sweat, dizziness,
restlessness) so that the individual can identify when they are stressed. By doing this, clients
have more control over their stressors.
2) Reliving stressful situations – This is where the client analyses stressful events and how they
were resolved, thinking up better ways and worse ways that they could have been dealt with.
This provides the client with valuable insight into the effectiveness of their current coping
strategies and therefore is able to recognise and identify their behaviour, and so they admit
their weaknesses. Once this has been done, the client is able to change their strategies.
3) Self-improvement – This is where the client learns to build their confidence by taking on new
challenges which increase in difficulty but the client will surely be able to cope with. By
completing challenges, they experience positive outcomes and so feel more control and
confidence over their lives. It helps one to see stressors as a challenge that will enable them
to learn and grow rather than something distressful and negative. For example, a mother who
has stopped work to raise her children can take a part-time job as a challenge or even take
classes to learn new skills.
An advantage of ‘Increasing Hardiness’ is that it has been found to be successful with various groups
including failing students and Olympic swimmers – the therapy had enabled to them to commit
completely to their challenges (exams/sports, etc) and suppress distractions. Another advantage is
that it deals with the underlying causes of a person’s stress rather than dealing with the symptoms
alone. For this reason, they are more useful than drugs as the person feels in control over their
stressors which can be extremely empowering as they are not passive to their stress. The skills can
be adapted to cope with any stressor and has a long term effect.
Weaknesses of this therapy include the fact that it requires a large deal of time, effort, motivation
and money on the patient’s part – the therapy will only work if the patient is determined to cure
their stress. It can take weeks and months for the therapy to complete – it is costly, and requires
commitment – some may turn to drugs as it is simply more convenient to take them. Another
disadvantage is that this therapy seems to be predominantly successful with white, middle-class,
business men, meaning its success or effectiveness is limited as it may not work with others. Also,
it may be impossible to change basic aspects of one’s personality – therefore despite this therapy,
some people may always be susceptible to stress and it may even make them worse. Section 1: Social Influence (Conformity, Obedience and Explanations)
Social influence is the act of being affected by others in terms of our behaviour, thoughts and
attitudes. What others will think or what others say or what is considered ‘socially acceptable’ will
undoubtedly influence your actions. Examples of social influence are conformity and obedience.
(Class definition I learnt). ‚Conformity is the tendency to change what we do (our behaviour) or
think or say (attitudes) in response to the influence of others or social pressure (real or imagined).‛
Conformity, or non-conformity, in short, is changing our behaviour in response to what everyone
else is doing. There are also different types of conformity, for example compliance and
Compliance is where one will outwardly change their mind to match a group’s, ( e.g. agreeing with some
colleagues about anti-immigration pol) but they will retain their own view in their heads ( e.g. but they
disagree or are apathetic towards anti-immigration policies m).tally
Internalisation is where one will outwardly change their mind to match a group’s but whereas
initially, in their head, they disagreed or were apathetic, over time their views are changed to match
the group’s internally, so that they genuinely agree with them. E.g. if all your friends liked a band that you
were apathetic towards/didn’t know about and you said you liked them, and over time you learn more about the band,
and here more of their songs, and they become one of your favourites/you genuinely like them.
The difference between the two is that compliance tends to be a quicker response whereas
internalisation is likely to happen over time, as views change – it is also likely to happen if an
individual is provided with more information about the subject and with internalisation, you actually
do genuinely agree with the group (though not initially).
Asch’s study/paradigm (1951) (Describe and evaluate research into conformity (more specifically
Asch believed that conformity was a rational process and so wanted to assess if a minority would
conform to a majority even if the majority was clearly wrong. Asch had participants carry out a line
judgement task in which they had to indicate which of three comparison lines was closest to a
standard line presented on two lines (this idea is known as the ‘Asch
Paradigm’). For example, in the picture, the answer would be ‘C’. Asch
used 123 male student participants that were divided into groups of 7
to 9 seated around a table. In actuality, in the groups, only on of them
was a participant (he was naive to this) and the rest were
confederates – the participant was also always seated second to the
end of the row so that he would not be the last to answer. The group
were asked to indicate and on a signal from the researcher, the
confederates would give unanimous wrong answers on 12 of the 18 trials for each experiment.
Answers were also always unambiguous so it was clear. Asch found that the overall conformity rate
was 37%, and 5% of participants conformed on every trial and 25% never conformed. When asked why
they conformed, participants gave a number of reasons: some felt their perceptions were wrong upon hearing different
answers from the group, others stated that they believed the rest were wrong but they did not wish to stand out and it was reported that some participants grew increasingly nervous and self-conscious thrAsch concluded
that a strong, large group can exert intense pressure to conform, even more so if they are
unanimous in their opinions.
A weakness of this study is that it is a limited sample – participants were all male students so we
cannot generalise to other groups of people.
Another weakness is that this study may lack historical validity – it is conceivable that the time and
place of which the study was carried out may have affected the results. For example, the 1950s
was an era known for its pressure to conform, so maybe the results would be different if carried out
today. In fact, Perrin & Spencer (1981) carried out the Asch paradigm in England using male science
and engineering students and the conformity rate was 1/400 – perhaps the time of this study there
was less pressure to conform or even the fact that intelligent science students may have been surer
Also, many ethical issues are raised by this study – participants reported that they felt anxious and
stressed, even embarrassed – this breaches the protection of participants and deception clauses in
the ethical guideline, although this may be irrelevant given the date of the study.
A limitation of this study is that due to the high control of the lab experiment, it lacks ecological
validity and so cannot be generalised to a real-life setting. The nature of the task also does not
represent a common real-life instance of conformity, and so lacks mundane realism.
However, its lab experiment nature means that great control was taken over the extraneous variables
and so we can prove cause and effect. The high control also means that it is easy to replicate to
check the reliability of the results (e.g. aforementioned Perrin & Spencer).
Clark study (Describe and evaluate research into conformity (more specifically minority influence))
Clark wanted to test if a minority could influence a majority by testing his predictions: if they a)
provided additional information and b) provided defectors/role-models (members of the majority
that changed their mind) in a jury decision making setting. He drew inspiration from the film ‚12
Angry Men‛ – so the participants had to take the role of jurors deciding whether a young man who
had been accused of killing his father was guilty or not. Like the film, one juror (No.8/Henry Fonda)
believed the boy to be innocent and went about convincing the others of this. 220 Psychology
students were used (129 women and 91 men if it matters). They were all given information about ‚12
Angry Men‛ and evidence which implied the young man was guilty (including that he had bought a
‘rare knife’ and that he had been heard screaming ‘I’m going to kill you’ by an old man and an old
woman had identified him as a murderer). The participant playing Juror No.8 was given various
pieces of information to persuade the other jurors, including: showing the other jurors the same
‘rare knife’ which he had bought in a store, revealing that the old man was disabled so could not
have moved quickly enough to see or hear the murder and the old woman had poor eyesight, so she
may be inaccurate in naming the murder. Through these trial simulations, Clark found that minority
jurors were able to change the others’ minds if they had counter evidence (supporting ‘a’ at the
beginning of the paragraph). He also found that other jurors were also influenced once they knew
that 4 and 7 jurors had changed their mind to ‘not guilty’ – this means that 7 had no more
influence than 4, but defectors did provide influence (supporting ‘b’). Clark concluded that it is
possible for a minority to influence a majority if they have persuasive information and/or role
models who change their views.
A strength of this study is that there are virtually no ethical issues when compared to that of Asch.
Another strength is that it simulates a real-life occurrence – a trail – and so it does represent conformity in a real-life setting and so is higher in ecological validity and mundane realism than
Asch’s study. Also, this study has provided us with essential knowledge about the nature of
persuasion and given us a deeper understanding of jury-decision making.
A weakness of this study is that the sample is limited – they are all Psychology students so we
cannot generalise to other groups and so lacks population validity. It can also be seen to be
lacking slightly in mundane realism as the trials were all fake.
Factors that may affect conformity
There are many factors that may influence one to change their behaviour. Four examples are listed
1) The size of the majority – It is likely that the larger the majority will result in a higher likelihood
to conform as a large majority will be perceived as having great social power. However, a clique
can question the majority.
2) The importance of time – The pressure to conform has changed over the decade – for example,
one could be placed in trouble if they were to stand out too much but now it is not such a
problem. With new times, there are new values.
3) The place and the culture – It is likely that collectivist cultures (Non-western usually) will place
more emphasis on conformity as values are different – being part of the community is more
important. Contrastingly, individualistic cultures (Western usually) may be less concerned with
conformity as they are more self-orientated.
4) The importance of modern technologies – Technology has made it possible for us to be in virtual
and real life situations. E.g. talking to someone on the internet is less threatening or daunting
than in real life. Therefore, there is less social pressure online. There is less conformity in these
Explanations of Conformity
Two explanations of conformity are The Dual-Process Dependency Model (Deustch and Gerard,
1955) and Social Impact Theory (Latane and Wolfe, 1981). Essay questions on these are possible so I
will put evaluation points, and, if faced with an essay, make sure to go in more detail with the
Dual-Process Dependency Model as there are more points here.
The Dual-Process Dependency Model
Developed by Deutsch and Gerard in 1981, this explanation suggests that people conform due to
two reasons (hence the ‘dual-process’), for social approval and information. According to this
model, conformity is the result of a rational decision making process. The two reasons:
1) Normative Social Influence (Social Approval/The desire to be liked) – This is the assumption that
we conform because we prefer to be accepted by the group rather than stand out (desire to be
liked). This may be for a variety of reasons – it is advantageous for us to belong to the group,
perhaps, or that they are dangerous.
2) Informational Social Influence (Information/The desire to be right) – This is the assumption that
we may conform if we are unsure of what to do or how to behave in an unfamiliar or ambiguous
situation. We may look at other people for clues at how to act and copy them as they may have
more knowledge than us – we conform because we want to be right. For example, if you were at a
foreign wedding and had no idea of the customs, you would copy everyone else.
A strength of this explanation is that it is supported by Asch’s research, namely that participants
do conform when they do not want to stand out or when they become unsure of themselves. They
do in fact conform out of desires to be accepted/liked and right. This offers credibility and weight
to the explanation. A weakness of this explanation is that people are still affected by the group even if they are not
present, so they cannot be exerting any pressure then. For example, a sports enthusiast is likely to
support their team even when surrounded by people who support an opposing team. Examples
such as these suggest that conformity is more complex than the model suggests.
Social Impact Theory
Developed by Latane and Wolfe in 1981, this theory attempts to explain why one may conform in
one situation but not in another. According to this, it depends on three factors:
1) Strength – the more important someone is to a person, the more they will influence them. For
example, if all your closest friends are doing something (I don’t know what), you’d be more likely to act the way they
do then if you saw some people in the street.
2) Immediacy – the psychological, social or even physical distance between the influencer and the
person. For example, if unfamiliar people were looking directly at you whilst asking your opinion, you’d be more
influenced to go along with their opinion because you may feel more influence.
3) Number – the more people they are, the more influence they exert. Although there is little
difference between 95 and 100 people, for example.
A strength of Social Impact Theory is that it has been supported by research findings, namely
Sedikides and Jackson (1990) found that high-strength and high immediacy sources had a greater
impact on one’s conformity levels. Another strength is that this is the only theory that explains
why people conform in some situations but not in others.
However, a disadvantage is that neither of these theories, especially this one, is able to explain why
some individuals conform and others do not. For example, Asch and Perrin & Spencer found
different levels of conformity but would have been the same in terms of strength, immediacy and
(Class definition I learnt) Obedience is the following of an order or an instruction from another
person (who usually has power or authority over you) to carry out an action. In short, obedience is
doing what someone (who normally has the power to do so) tells you to do. The obedience studies
covered here are the research of Milgram, Bickman and Hofling.
The difference between conformity and obedience is that the source of the social influence is
different. Conformity is likely to be peer pressure whereas with obedience someone is likely to be
giving you an order – conformity involves no authority figure and is often peer influence/pressure.
Milgram’s Experiment (Describe and evaluate research into obedience)
Milgram aimed to investigate whether people would obey so far as to administer fatal electric
shocks on an innocent person, in the simplest terms. 1000 volunteers from ‘all walks of life’ were
the participants used in this study. Participants were told they were going to be a teacher or a
learner but in fact they would always be the teacher as the learner was always a confederate whom
the participant believed to be a fellow participant. Teachers/Participants were told to ask learners
questions (the learners were often not in the same room and they could only be heard) and if they
were wrong, they were to shock them, increasing the shocks in steps of 15V until they reached
450v (fatal). The shocks were not real, however, and the screams the teachers heard had been
previously recorded. If participants did not want to continue shocking, they were urged to continue
by the experiment. It was predicted beforehand that a mere 1% of people would go to the full ‘450
Volts’ where in actuality 65% of people did (the same result was found in Derren Brown’s version of the experiment). He concluded that there seemed to be two reasons for obedience: a) the use of
incremental increases (as the voltage increased in small steps, there was more reason to continue
as what they just did seemed to have little difference to what they were about to do, similar to
gradual commitment mentioned later) and b) the diffusion of responsibility (the experimenter
assured the participant that they would take all blame if any harm were to come to the learner,
similar to ‘the authority figure takes responsibility’ mentioned later).
A major weakness of this study is that it arises many ethical issues. Firstly, there was obviously a
large amount of deception as participants had no idea of what was really going on and because of
this, they were unable to give informed consent and may have been in the study against their will.
That being said, they were fully debriefed, specifically they physically met the ‘learner’ in an
attempt to relieve them of their stress and guilt. This leads on to the next issue; the ‘protection of
participants’ guideline was heavily breached as many participants felt immense guilt, stress and
worry and there was no protection from this. The debriefing helped to relieve them, however, but
may have made them distrusting of psychologists in the future. Also, participants did not feel that
they had the right to withdraw as they were told that ‚they must continue‛ when they protested.
However, if participants objected repeatedly and strongly, they were allowed to stop. The study
also breaches the ‚Confidentiality‛ agreement – the study was filmed and the data was publicly
available. (It is not important to know all these ethical issues but two or three should be enough)
Another weakness of this study is the fact that they were all volunteers – the study aimed to get a
wide range of participants, all from all walks of life, yet volunteers are unrepresentative – they may
be more motivated as they went out of their way to be in the study. Therefore, it lacks population
Another weakness of this study is that as it was a lab experiment, there was high control and
therefore it was an extremely artificial environment and so, the study lacks ecological validity and
cannot be generalised to a real-life setting. There may be a higher chance of demand
characteristics although this may be slightly irrelevant as participants were deceived.
Strengths of this study include the fact that it has extremely high control do to its lab experiment
nature – this high control means it is extremely precise and great control was taken over
extraneous variables so cause and effect can be proved. The high control also means the study
can be replicated with ease (and it has been many times) and this makes it possible to see whether
the results are reliable (they have been, but it depends on different factors as noted later).
Factors affecting obedience
Milgram replicated his study by making many changes to see their effect on the levels of
obedience. He varied, for example, whether the study was carried out at Yale or in a ‘seedy office