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Stress and the immune system
The role of the immune system = the immune system is designed to protect the body from bacteria and virus' that would
otherwise invade it. If it is compromised by something such as stress or antigens it is harder to the immune system to
fight them off.
-The immune system does three things:
1.) Creates a barrier that prevents antigens entering the body.
2.) Detects and kills off antigens before they settle.
3.) Kills off any virus which is already started to cause problems.
· Stress has a negative effect on the immune system. Increased heart rate and blood pressure from chronic stress leads
to high levels of glucose. The extra energy designed to get us out of dangerous situations furs up our arteries leading
to atherosclerosis. The effects of this includes heart attacks and strokes.
-Two parts of the immune system
1.) Natural immunity (Short term) Used everyday to fight off bacteria and virus'. It works within minutes and comes
from our white blood cells known as leucocytes which are produced in bone marrow.
2.) Specific immunity (long term) Its where lymphocytes produce antibodies deisgned to fight off specific antigens and
it develops over a period of days.…read more
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Kiecolt Glaser et al
This study focussed on the relationship between stressors and immune system functioning.
-Aim: to identify whether short term stressors (exams) had an effect on the immune system functioning of medical
-Blood samples taken from 75 student volunteers one moth before exams (control reading) and on the first day of their
exams (stress reading).
·The blood samples enabled Kiecolt Glaser et al to assess the natural killer cell activity in the blood samples.
·Students also completed a questionnaire to asses their psychiatric state, their level of loneliness and number of life
events they had experienced in the last year.
·Students in the stressed condition has significantly fewer natural killer cells on the day of their first exam.
·Loneliness, many life events and mental health problems were also all associated with a weak immune response.
·The results suggest that short term stressors reduce immune system functioning and increase ones vulnerability to
/ = natural experiment (high ecological validity)
X = questionnaire (could lie in answers to seem desirable)
X = Small sample (hard to make generalisations)
·Marcha et al
-Found that wounds heal slower when the body is undergoing a period of stress.
-Inflicted small wound in the mouths of students during either the summer holidays or three days before an exam.
-Wounds inflicted before the exam took 40 % longer to heal than wounds inflicted during the summer
Ethical issues: Protection from harm.…read more
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Life events and changes Life events and changes are events in our lives that require significant
adjustment in various aspects of our lives. Its believed to be a source of stress. Not all live changes and events are negative
some are very positive but still carry an element of stress without them.
· Social Readjustment Rating scale (SRRS):
· Holmes and Rahe
Developed the idea that life changes are linked to stress and illness. They were both doctors and they noticed that the majority of
patients they treated often had a number of life events leading up to them becoming ill. This leads them to believe that both
positive and negative life events can cause stress and therefore lead to illness. In order to test this idea they developed the
-43 life events on the scale.
-400 participants helped to create the scale by scoring each event in terms of stress.
-Each score of the life events was then averaged out, giving a life change unit (LCU) for each event in the scale.
Holmes and Rahe believed that the higher the number of LCU's experienced by an individual the more likely they were to
· Rahe et al
-2700 men who worked for the US navy filled in the SRRS questionnaire just before a tour of duty.
· All participants noted the life event experiences over the previous 6 moths.
· An illness was calculated on the basis of number, type and severity of all illnesses recorded during the 7 month tour.
-Rahe et al found that there was a positive correlation between the LCU score and the illness that participants recorded.
-From the results, Rahe concluded that there was a positive correlation between life changes and physical illness.
-This is likely to be because life changes cause stress and stress is likely to cause illness.
/ = Easy to analyse (quantitative data)
/ = Large sample (2700 participants)
X = Cant generalise (only men in the US navy)
X = Self reporting techniques (people could lie)
X = In the navy so it could be more stressful.…read more
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Daily hassles and uplifts:
-Daily hassles = Are relatively minor events which arise through the course of a normal day and can cause you to get
-Daily uplifts = Are the opposite of daily hassles. They are things which make us happier and are thought to counteract
the damaging effects of stress.
The Hassles and uplifts scale
-Delongis et al
They created the hassles and uplifts scale (HSUP) to measure attitudes towards daily situations.
It is used to evaluate positive and negative events that may occur in each participants daily life.
It contains 53 items which can indicate whether a given event is a hassle, an uplift or both.
Participants indicate that the event is a hassle by circling a number on one side or an uplift by circulating a number on the
Research on daily uplifts
Research has sugested that daily uplifts can help to counteract some of the effects we experience due to daily hassles.
Asked nurses to keep work diaries for a month with recorded all daily hassles and uplifts they experiences during their
The nurses were also asked to rate their own performance as a health care professional over the same period of time.
An analysis of results at the end of the month found that daily hassles increased job strain and decreased job
Daily uplifts on the other hand counteracted the negative effects of daily hassles and improved working performance.…read more
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The link between stress and illness is fairly well known and employers have started to do all they can to prevent absences
cause by stress related illness.
Both psychological and physical stressors influence health, but the extent they do so depends on the individuals ability to
cope and the social support available.
Two main contributors to work place stress:
1.) workload = not only being given too much work but also being given too little.
2.) Control = High levels of control can lead to lower stress, while lower levels can lead to higher stress.
·Marmot et al
·7372 civil servants working in London completed a questionnaire on workload, job control and the amount of social
support they felt they received.
·Participants also checked for cardiovascular disease.
·They were re-assessed five years later (checked to see if stress had an effect).
·No link between high workload and stress related illness (job demand not a significant factor in stress.
·The lower grade participants were more likely to smoke, be obese and have high blood pressure.
A lack of control over work content and rate led to increased stress, leading to high risk of illness.…read more