Biological Psychology looks at psychology from a physical perspective.
Looks at two key biological systems:
Central Nervous System:
the ‘control centre’ of the nervous system, consisting of the brain and the spinal cord.
all the hormones and the glands that produce them
What is stress?
Biological and physiological response we have when we encounter a threat we feel we do not have the resources to overcome.
Caused by a stressor
An internal or external factor that causes us to have a stress response.
Autonomic nervous system
lies outside the central nervous system
Has two halves:
- Sympathetic pathway (sANS): active when arousal is high
- Parasympathetic pathway (pANS): active during relaxation
Sympatheticomedullary pathway – this is the flight or fight response we have.
· Autonomic nervous system
· Adrenal medulla
· Adrenaline and noradrenaline
· Increased heart rate, glucose is released from the liver, breathe faster
Pituitary Adrenal System
Pituitary adrenal system – long term stressors response
· Corticophin releasing hormone
· Pituitary gland
· Adrenocorticotrophia hormone
· Adrenal cortex
· Cortisol and aldosterone
· Suppressed immune system, slows heartbeat, contracts bladder
Stress and the immune system
· When stressed, high levels of hormones change the activity of cells which are important in the immune response, such as lymphocytes.
· This can cause the immune system to begin to fail, which leads to increased risk of disease.
- The cells within the immune system are known as white blood cells; these cells identify and destroy foreign bodies such as viruses.
- The presence of viruses leads to the production of antibodies.
- Antibodies are secreted by T cells.
- Prolonged stress shrinks the thymus gland.
- This is responsible for the production of killer, memory and T-helper cells which fight infection
- Shrinking the thymus leads to fewer T cells making the immune system less effective
Marucha et al (1998)
Marucha et al (1998)
11 dental students were given a small cut to the roof of their mouths.
This was done during the summer holidays and repeated just before their exams.
It was found that the students were 40 per cent slower to recover during the exams than during holidays.
This shows that the stress of exams had an effect on their immune system and recovery time.
This supports the fact that the immune system is less effective during periods of stress.
Lab experiment. As Ps know they are in a study, they are likely to try and work out the purpose and change their behaviour (demand characteristics). Because variables are able to control – the study is easy replicated, increasing reliability.
Stress and Personality
Stress and personality
· Some people may be more sensitive of the effects of stressors than others; this could be due to differences in personality.
A: hardworking, competitive and time conscious
B: opposite – relaxed and calm
C: represses emotions, but nice and sociable
X: don’t fit neatly into any other category
Lee JM and Watanuki S
Lee JM and Watanuki S (2007)
A and B personalities shown grey screen during rest and recovery and shown unpleasant images during stressor stage. Found that A hearts work harder under stress than B.
Lab experiment, artificial environment – lacks ecological validity.
suggests that type C individuals cope with stress in a way that ignores their own needs, in order to please others and that this has negative physiological consequences. He states that they repress their stressors and eventually such stressors take their toll.
Temoshok suggest that type C is associated with cancer when stressors are consistent as this affects the immune system and increases the risk of cancer.
Perry and Baldwin (2000)
Perry and Baldwin (2000)
Driver behaviour in relation to personality type.
Type A personality was linked to aggressive behaviour on the road.
Suggest that their personality causes them to engage in behaviours that increase exposure to stress, such as road rage.
Mitaishvili and Danielia (2006)
Not all evidence suggests that people with type A personalities suffer the most stress or ill health
Mitaishvili and Danielia (2006)
Found no relationship between A personality and the rate of coronary heart disease, which is a disease related to stress, therefore suggesting that this personality type may not be more prone to stress.
Stress and everyday life
Stress and everyday life
· Things that happen to us, such as getting stuck in traffic or losing a loved one, act as sources of stress.
· Two measures of stressful experiences are life changes and daily hassles.
Stress and life events
· Major life changes can be a cause of stress
· Such as; divorce, unemployment, death
Holmes and Rahe (1967)
· Developed a questionnaire identifying major life events
· Each of the events was awarded ‘Life Change Units’ depending n *** traumatic they were
· Used this information to create the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which has a stress score for each event.
· Total value of stressful life events over time worked out by adding up the score
· The higher the total, the more stressors an individual has, and greater there chance of becoming ill.
First part was a questionnaire which provides in depth qualitative data, which can be analysed easily. However it does rely on individuals interpretation and memory.
Evaluation of SRRS
- The SRRS tends to muddle together many different kinds of experience, which will not affect everyone in the same way.
- Different events may affect people differently, which may explain the weak correlation found. For example, retirement may be a dramatic change for some people but not for others.
- Individual differences such as coping skills, past experiences and physical strength all effect the way an event will affect you.
- There could be other intervening variables involved. For example, it may be that certain individuals do find life events stressful because they are vulnerable personalities and the reason they become ill may be due to their personality rather than the event.
Yamada et al (2003), Palesh et al (2007)
Yamada et al (2003)
· Found relationship between the score on SRRS and development of disease sarcoidosis, this shows that the SRRS can be linked to stress, which then leads to ill health and the development of sarcoidosis.
Cause and effect; did the stress cause the sarcoidosis, or did the sarcoidosis cause the stress?
Palesh et al (2007)
· Women who had breast cancer were more likely to relapse when experienced more life events, this shows that the stress results in the relapse and the suppression of the immune system.
Stress and daily hassles
Little things that irritate us have a negative effect
Such as; concerns about weight, health and traffic
Kanner et al (1981)
Developed a scale of 117 events that could annoy people on a daily basis – the hassles scale. Measured hassles of 100 people over 9 months, found those who reported more hassles suffered more psychological symptoms of stress (depression and anxiety)
Daily hassles are also linked to health. DeLongis et al 1988, found people experiencing more stressors had more symptoms of illness such as sore throat, headaches and backaches.
Erlandsson and Eklund (2003)
Found that well-being was affected by daily hassles, they found that a women’s well-being was lower if they had a higher amount of daily hassles.
Some jobs are more stressful than others
One source of stressors identified by Life Events scale and Hassle scale relates to employment
Marmot et al (1997)
10,308 civil servants aged 35-55 were investigated in a longitudinal study over 3 years. Reported higher-grade employees less stressed than lower-grade ones. Also less likely to die from coronary heart disease-related illnesses
Although this shows a relationship between these two factors, it doesn’t necessarily show directional correlation. The jobs performed by those high and low in control differed in several ways other than simply control; those having high levels of job control generally earn more money, have more interesting jobs, have more opportunity for interpersonal contact. We do not know which of these factors is most closely associated with heart disease.
Sparks et al (1997), Hammarstorm and Janlert (1997
Sparks et al (1997)
Conducted a meta-analysis and found people who worked longer hours were at greater risk of getting ill.
Meta-analysis so large amount of data – but needs researcher’s interpretation of data.
Having no job at all is also stressful
Hammarstorm and Janlert (1997)
Followed 1060 school leavers over 5 years and found unemployment leads to stress and depression.
Coping with stress
Aim to reduce the negative effects of the stressor
Include; keeping yourself busy, letting off steam to others, ignoring the
problem, distracting yourself
Collins et al (1983)
studied people living near the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. This was a site of a serious nuclear accident, residents feared radiation would be hazardous. Found that people using emotion focused strategies coped better than those employing problem focused.
Case study, small sample so may not be able to be generalised to whole population
Alridge and Roesch (2007)
Found that children with cancer were more stressed if they attempted to use problem-focused strategies to cope.
Aims to remove the stressor
Include; seeking advice, looking at alternate plans, getting information, taking positive action
Genco et al (1999)
People with financial problems, using problem focused suffered less problems with their teeth
Epping – Jordan et al (1994)
Cancer patients who use emotion focused deteriorated quicker than those using problem focused
People tend to use a mixture of emotion and problem focused strategies.
Although, in general problem-focused is best because it removes the stressor and deals with the root of the problem.
However it’s not always best to use problem-focused, when someone dies dealing with the feelings of loss requires emotion-focused strategies.
Psychological stress management strategies
Used to help people with a range of psychological disorders
Aim to change individuals cognitions to enable them to deal with the stressor
Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)
Ellis 1977, suggested that activating events (A) trigger believes (B), if these beliefs are negative then the consequence will also be negative (C).
He argued that we sustain irrational beliefs in this way.
Since the consequences of activating events are controlled by beliefs, these believes must be changed to improve coping – this is the aim of REBT.
The model is extended to include REBT:
Disrupting irrational beliefs (D)
The effects of this disruption (E): these include cognitive, emotional and behavioural changes.
These aim to make individuals more able to withstand stressors.
Investigated burn-outs in nurses and found that those with maladaptive thinking, such as creating unrealistic demands, were more likely to experience burn-out thoughts and behaviour.
In this situation the nurses would have benefitted from REBT to change their unrealistic expectations.
Natural experiment – IV and DV cannot be changed. It would be very hard to replicate the study, reducing reliability.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Beck suggested that individuals emotional responses to negative situations depends on their cognitive processing.
Peoples cognitions differ, so does their ability to cope with stress.
When people have dysfunctional beliefs, they cause negative automatic thoughts.
CBT aims to reduce symptoms of emotional disorders by changing dysfunctional cognition.
Achieved by the therapist teaching the client to identify and monitor the automatic thoughts they experience when they are stressed. This is done by asking questions and using tasks to demonstrate the irrationality of beliefs.
Butlet and Beck 2000
Butler and Beck 2000
Meta analysis, found CBT was useful for anxious and depressed clients. The relapse rate for depression was only 29.5% after CBT, compared with 60% with antidepressant treatment.
Meta-analysis, large amount of data however the findings need the researchers interpretation
Physiological stress management strategies
Symptoms of stress may be treated with medication.
The process of transmission of messages in the nervous system makes it possible for other chemicals to affect brain function. Drug molecules resemble neurotransmitters. They enter the gaps between neurones. This means they can artificially influence emotions, cognitions or behaviour, so alter the symptoms of stress.
The body produces chemicals (hormones) that create anxiety, which can be countered by using other chemical substances (i.e. drugs) to reduce anxiety. These are called anti-anxiety drugs.
Stress levels can be reduced using these drugs
In depression levels of the neurotransmitter – serotonin – are lower than normal. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) counteract these reduced levels.
Trivedi et al 2006
Trivedi et al 2006
Studied SSRI. Almost 3000 out-patients with depression were tested before and after treatment.
For 47% of the patients their depression score was halved.
Large sample size, therefore the findings can be generalised.
+ & -
One of the greatest appeals of using drug treatment for stress is that the therapy requires little effort from the user. They just have to remember to take the pills.
They can be very effective at reducing intense feelings of stress.
Drugs may be effective in treating symptoms, but this lasts only as long as the drugs are taken. It cannot be used as a long term solution. As soon as you stop taking them, the effectiveness ceases. It doesn’t address the problem causing the stress.
There are side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, tiredness, weakness, dry mouth, diarrhoea, upset stomach or more severely, seizures.
This deals with the physiological symptoms of stress, such as raised blood pressure an increased muscle tension, which are involuntary. We are unable to control them because they are governed by our Autonomic Nervous System.
Biofeedback is a method by which an individual learns to exert voluntary control over involuntary behaviours by being made aware of what is happening in the ANS
Biofeedback involves four processes:
1. Feedback – The patient is attached to various machines, which provide information about ANS activity. For example, the patient can hear their heartbeat.
2. Relaxation – The patient is taught techniques of relaxation, which have the affect of reducing the sympathetic nervous system and activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The result should be reduced heart rate and other symptoms associated with stress
3. Operant conditioning – Relaxation leads to a target behaviour, such as decreased heart rate. This is rewarding which increases the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated. Such learning takes place without conscious thought
4. Transfer - The patient then needs to transfer the skills learned to the real world
+ & -
Tsai et al 2007
found that biofeedback based on real information about changes in blood pressure produced a greater reduction in blood pressure in patients with mild hypertension than those given sham feedback.
Ethical issues, deception
+Biofeedback has been found to be successful in treating a wide range of behaviours, such as heart rate, blood pressure and brain waves.
There are also no side effects with biofeedback. It is not an invasive technique. In other words, it does not alter the body in any permanent way as drugs do. The only affects are increased relaxation, which is desirable.
-The technique requires specialist equipment, which means that it is expensive and can only be undertaken with specialist supervision.
The aim is to reduce the symptoms associated with stress; it does not treat the source of stress, such as workplace tension.