Biological Psychology- Stress

  • Created by: ava.scott
  • Created on: 24-04-14 16:18

Stress Definition

Stress is a psychological and/or physical strain which threatens the mammal/person to cope in a given situation.

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Stress systems- Sympathomeduallary system

For acute stress- fight or flight

Sympathetic branch

  •  Stressor detected by hypothamalus
  • Send an electrical impulse to the adrenal medulla
  • Releases adrenalin and noradrenalin
  • increases heart rate
  • increases breathing rate
  • diverts blood from digestive system to muscles

Parasympathetic branch

  • after the stressor has disappeared, the body returns to homeostasis
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Stress systems- pituitary-adrenal system

Pituitary-adrenal system, for chronic stress

  • stressor detected by hypothamalus
  • releases CRF hormone, which is detected by the pituitary gland
  • releases ATCH 
  • detected by the adrenal cortex
  • releases corticosteroids e.g. cortisol

cortisols benefits:

  • reserves glucose for neural tissues
  • elevates/stabilizes blood-glucose levels 
  • mobilies protein reserves
  • preserves salts and water

however cortisol has some negative impact on the body e.g.

  • slows wound healing
  • suppresses immune system making illness more likely
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The immune system and how it works

Works in three ways

  • Creates a barrier preventing antigens from getting inside the body
  • The immune systems must attack and elminate any antigen that gets into the body 
  • If the antigen begins to reproduce and cause problems the immune system must tackle it.
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Stress on the immune system- Kielcolt and Glaser


  • 75 medical students
  • blood taken a month before exams and during exams
  • t-cell lymphocyte levels measured
  • questionnnaire to investigate psychological variables


  • T cell lymphocyte levels were significantly lower during exams
  • lowest in those who recorded loneliness and life events.


  • examination stress reduces immune function


  • medical students= unrepresentative, exam stress is different to other stressors.
  • natural study = good, real stress
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Stress on the immune system- Kang and Gerra


found a decrease in natural killer cells during examination period. These cells attack cancers and infected cells.

evaluation- students/ young people may repsond to stress differently to other age groups


Found much lower natural killer cells in those who had recently suffered a bereavment, compared to control group. This consisted for atleast 6 months.

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Stress and cardiovascular disorders- Williams

ANS activation leads to high blood pressure which can wear away at blood vessels, and increased glucose can lead clumps and blockages.


6 year study of 13,000 participants found that hostillity made them 2.5 times more susceptible to heart attacks.

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Life Changes- Rahe

These are events that require a significant amount of adjustment for the person to cope.


  • 2500 male naval personelle took the SRRI questionnaire before going on their tour of duty. Meticulous records of their health were kept.
  • A correlation +0.118 was found between life events and illness. 
  • Therefore life events are linked to illness.
  • Small correlation so not the only factor


  • all men- respond differently to stress
  • causality- perhaps illness caused the life event? maybe there is a missling link?
  • all american- not representative
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Life Changes- Stone and Michael & Ben-zur


Married couples recorded daily checklist of events over 3 months. Illness tended to follow 4 days after an undesirable life event. 

Micheal and Ben-zur

130 participants. Half divorced, half widowed. Widows were less happy after loss, compared to divorcees, whose life had improved. This shows that not all life events can cause stress and illness. 


Ethnocentric- support systems may be different in different communities and culture.

michael+ ben-zur- This could be due to having a new partner (more likely in divorcees than widows)

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Daily Hassles - 4 studies and explanations

These are minor events within the course of the day, interrupting routine.

Kanner- correlation found between daily hassles and depression, anxiety and health problems.

De Longis- correlation betwene health problems and both daily hassles and life events. however, daily hassles was more significant

Ruffin- daily hassle caused more psychological and physiological dysfunction that life events. 

Bouteyre- significant relationship between daily hassles and new university students. out of 233 students, 41% showed depressive symptoms, and daily hassle sare a key risk factor.

Most studies are correlational= cant assume causality


accumulation- repetitive and consistent, daily hassles can build up resulting in dysfunction.

reserves- if coping with a life event, reserves for dealing with stress are depleted.

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Evaluation of Daily Hassles


most research is correlational, which means we cannot asuume casuality. for example, anxiety could increase daily hassles, as that is how people percieve them. there could also be a missing link.

Cultural Differences

Kim and McKenry found that White americans use a lot less social support than african/asian americans and hispanics.

Practical Applications

Bouteyres study shows us how hassles should be minimised for new univeristy students. Employers should try and make work life run smoother.

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Workplace stress- Johansson

Johansson- effect of workload, control, isolation and repsonsibility and stress

  • 14 wood mill finishers with big workload, low contol, very isolated and high responsibility. Compared to a control group of cleaners.
  • In urine samples, the finshers had much higher levels of the stress hormone, adrenalin and noradrenalin of work days compared to weekend, and higher overall than the cleaners. They also had higher levels of absences and stress-related illness.
  • Employers should look to reduce workplace stress so as to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.


  • not matched pairs- individual differences weren't controlled so other factors such as income may have had an effect.
  • lots of factors- did not establish the key contributor to stress
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Workplace stress- Marmot (Control)


10,000 civil servants job's were analysed for levels of control, and they were then followed for 3 years.

It was found that those with less control were not only 4 times more likely to die from a heart attack, but were also more susceptible to ulcers, strokes and cancer.


correlational- cant assume low control causes illness. maybe illness meant grades could not be achieved for the higher-control jobs.

used questionnaires which are notoriously innaccurate and open to demand charactersistics.

other factors apart from control e.g. variety in work and social support.

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Workplace and Stress- Schaubroek


Found that those who perceived they had control over their job, but not the skills to handle it were more likely to blame themselves for failures and be stressed.

This counteracts the idea that more job control is better, because it can be detrimental to those who can't handle it, or are too self-critical.

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Personality factors- Type A and B behaviour

Type A behaviour includes

  • competitiveness
  • multitasking
  • time pressured
  • frustrated by work of others

Type B is basically the opposite.

Freidman and Rosenman

Studied 3200 californian men who were catergorised as Type A, B or X, and followed for 8.5 years.

257 men developed coronary heart disease, and of these, 70% were type A. This is double the rate for type B. Behaviour modification programmes can reduce susceptibility.

Evaluation: all men- women may react differently. all californian- low population validity. natural study- so no cause and effect, lots of variables.

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Personality factors- Type A&B more studies


15 year study of younger people, found that certain aspects of Type A behvaiour were unhealthier than others, especially hostility and impatience.


300 participants and found that German managers who had type A behaviour and an external locus of contriol were more stressed, lower job satisfaction and poor mental health. Type B managers with an internal locus of control faired better.

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Personality factors- Type A and B EVALUATION

Lack of consistency

Research is a micture of prospective and retrospective data. Correlation shave been found but never very high, and some negative findings were discovered too.

Role of hostility-

Williams found that hostility was key to developing CHD, and that perhaps the other type A characteristics are less relevant. This is even worse when hostility is suppressed.

Role of hardiness-

many Type A's lead very stressful lives without detrimental effects. They often have hardy personalities which are resistant to stress.

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Personality Factors- Hardiness

Control- The belief that you have sole control and influence over your life, rather than external forces such as luck.

Commitment- sense of purpose and involvement with the world; the belief that you should engage with the world.

Challengeseeing hurdles as opportunities to prove yourself, change and grow. avoid safe and comfortable stance in life.

Illinois Bell Telphone company

downsized from 26,000 employees to just over half in one year. Remaining employees faced changing job descriptions, goals and supervisors. Around 2/3 of the employees suffered significant decline in performance, health and leadership. They were susceptible to depression, heart attacks, obesity and strokes. However 1/3 actually thrived in the upheaval, feeling renewed enthusisasm and happiness.This 1/3 displayed the three characteristsics of a hardy personality.

Hardy soldiers are less susceptible to post-traumatic stress syndrome.

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Treatments of stress- Biological inc. evaluation


Benzodiazepines such as valium increase the levels of neutrotransmitters, such as GABA, which reduces the activity of other transmitters and lower overall brain activity. This makes the patient feel detached and unstressed.

Evaluation: They work instantly, but should not be taken with alcohol or when operating machinery. The body builds up resistance quickly and they are also easy to become dependent on or even addicted. For this reason, doctors rarely prescribe benzodiazepines for a long period of time.

Beta Blockers- block beta-andronergic receptors in the heart and work on reducing the peripheral nervous system effects of stress e.g. raised heart and breathing rate. 

EvaluationThey do not affect the brain, so the patient can continue life normally. No resistance builds up. Shouldn't be given to those with athsma as they narrow airways.

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Drug Therapy Overall Evaluation

Evaluation: all drugs treat symptoms not the cause, and therefore are not cures to stress, and the problem often comes back after treatment is stopped. People can become dependent on them. They can cause side effects.

However they are quick, and have shown to make huge improvements in stress-sufferers. They are also easily tested using experimental methods.

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Treatments of stress- Cognitive

Stress Innoculation Therapy


Therapist and patient come aquainted, and keys fears are discussed and realised. The therapist may even challenge some irrational fears.

Skills Aqusiition-

The therapist will teach the patient some coping strategies including breathing techniques, time management and muscle relaxation routines.


Patient is sent out into a real life situation to practice their new coping skills. The are given a get-out-clause if they are too stressed.

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Treatments of stress- Cognitive Evaluation

Stress Innoculation Therapy


  • Teaches skills that can be applied to many situations
  • Therapist and patient have an equal, cooperative relationship (rather than psychodyamic, where the therapist is in control)
  • The therapy can be tailored to the patients needs.
  • Many people have benefitted from CBT.


  • Critics say it focuses too much on the behaviour, and doesn't solve the root of the problem.
  • It takes a long time, so isn't a quick solution.
  • Patient needs to be fully and actively involved, challenging themselves, so it isn't an easy, quick fix.
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