psychology AQA Spec B stress

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Life Changes Holmes and Rahe SRRS AO1

Holmes & Rahe (1967) Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)

  • Procedures-Holmes and Rahe found that certain life events were associated with stress and poor health. They developed the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) as a method of measuring the effects stress caused by life events on physical illness. From the medical records of over 5000 patients and asked them which events they had experienced over the previous 2 years. They identified 43 life events that seemed to happen before illness. Each event was ranked in order according to how stressful it was. Each life event was given a value called a Life Change Unit (LCU) to represent the degree of stress it caused e.g. death of a spouse = 100 LCU’s.
  • Findings-A score of 150+ increased chances of stress-related illnesses by 30% compared with people who scored below 150. A score 300+ increased the odds of stress related illness by 50%.
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Life Changes Rahe Americal Sailors AO1

Rahe (1970)

  • Procedures: Rahe conducted a correlational investigation into 2500 male American sailors. They were asked how many life events they had experienced in the previous six months and a total SRRS score was recorded for each participant.  Over the next six-month tour of duty, detailed records were kept of each sailor’s health status. 
  • Findings: A positive correlation of 0.118 between Life Change scores and illness scores was found.  This means as Life Change Units increased so did the frequency of illness. 
  • Conclusions: Rahe concluded that experiencing life events increased the chances of stress-related health breakdown. However as the correlation was not perfect, life events cannot be the only factor in contributing to illness.
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Life Changes A02

  • Doesn't distinguish between positive and negative life events – Some life events are positive and desirable. People getting married probably see it as a positive change, while ‘change in financial state’ can clearly be positive or negative. (This is a problem with questionnaires because people interpret the same questions differently). The SRRS does not distinguish between positive and negative events as it assumes that any life change is stressful.
  • Problems with validity- The SRRS requested that participants retrospectively recorded the life events they had experienced over a given time.  Due to the inaccuracy of memory recall, participants may have recorded extra events or left out events, which had occurred in the time frame. Some participants may deliberately not record all events because of embarrassment. Therefore the validity of the research may be questioned.
  • Ignores individual differences- SRRS values for different events will vary from person to person. e.g. some people might find marital separation a relief so will give a low LCU score. Each of us could devise a personal rating scale, since the stressfulness of an event depends upon our perception of it. Personality Type (A or B) can also have an effect on how someone perceives stress e.g.A minor stress for Type B may have an serious impact on Type A.
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Daily Hassles Kanner et al hassels scale A01

  • Procedures: Kanner et al developed the Hassles Scale which consists of 117 events that could annoy people on a daily basis. This includes minor problems e.g. queuing They measured hassles in a sample of 100 people over nine months.
  •  Findings: They found a positive correlation, those who reported the most hassles suffered more psychological symptoms of stress e.g. depression and anxiety.
  • Procedures: Kanner et al also produced a scale for measuring the daily positives. The Uplifts Scale consisted of 138 good things that could happen daily, e.g. getting enough sleep.
  • Findings: There was a negative correlation between uplifts and stress symptoms. The hassles scale was a better predictor of stress symptoms than the SRRS. 
  • Conclusion: This suggests that everyday stressors are a better predictor of stress, and therefore vulnerability to illness than life events.
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Daily Hassles Bouteyre et al AO1

Procedure: Bouteyre et al investigated the relationship between daily hassles and the mental health of students during the initial transition period from school to university. Over 200 1st year psychology students at a French university answered questions on the hassles part of the Hassles and Uplifts Scale and the Beck Depression Inventory.

Findings: 41% of the students studied suffered from depressive symptoms, and there was a positive correlation between scores on the hassles scale and the incidence of depressive symptoms.

Conclusion: this shows that the transition to university is frequently fraught with daily hassles and that these can be considered a significant risk factor for depression

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Daily Hassles AO2

  • Retrospective Data-the rating of hassles is completed retrospectively (people have to think about and evaluate past events) so relies on accurate recall. However, research suggests that recollections are affected by current state of mind so the person might rate the past hassles when they may be currently ill. So it is possible that they will over-report negative events and under-report positive ones.
  • Ignores individual differences – there may be individual differences in how people interpret hassles, so an event which is a hassle to one person might not be a hassle to another, (e.g. being late). Also, if an event is interpreted as a hassle varies, so that it can be a hassle one time but not another; Delongis et al addressed this in their revised hassles scale on a 4 point scale rather than yes or no. this is more useful because it measures participant's perception of stress which is more important than the amount of stressors. This is because stress is the extent to which an individual feels that they can or cannot cope with a threat.
  • Reliable evidence - there's a lot of evidence supporting the idea that daily hassles have a big influence on stress and health. e.g. Gulian et al found that participants who reported a difficult day at work reported higher levels of stress at home so when these unresolved hassles were carried forward into the driving situation, events (e.g. car breaking down) were more likely to be seen as stressful by the driver. This shows that this research has consistently reported the same findings so its reliable.        


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Workplace Stress Johansson et al on workload A01

  • Procedures: Using a natural experiment a high workload group of 14 ‘finishers’ were compared with a low workload group of 10 cleaners; all participants were from a Swedish sawmill. The finisher’s job was machine-paced, isolated, repetitive yet highly skilled.  The cleaners work was more varied, self-paced, and allowed for more socialising. 
  •  Findings: When levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline (stress-related hormones) in the urine were measured it was found the finishers secreted more adrenaline and noradrenaline on workdays than on rest days, and higher levels overall than the cleaners.  The finishers also showed significantly higher levels of stress-related illness (e.g. headaches) and higher levels of absenteeism than the cleaners, due to their high workload
  • Conclusions: Johansson suggested a high workload led to chronic biological responses which in turn led to stress-related illness and absenteeism.
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Workplace Stress Marmot et al work control AO1

  • Procedure: Marmot et al analysed 7000 London based government civil servants who were heart disease free at the beginning of the longitudinal study using a self-report questionnaire. 
  • Findings: After a 5 year follow-up study, it was found that heart disease was 1.5 times the rate in low level workers (where the type and amount of work is decided by others) than in the highest grades (those who are more independent in deciding on the type and amount of work).  Many of the higher level civil servants expressed a high sense of job control where as the lower grades felt a low level of job control. 
  • Conclusion: Therefore it appeared one of the most significant contributing factors was the degree of control the workers had. 
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Workplace Stress AO2

  • Real Life Application-As Johansson’s study was a natural experiment, the IV (the job cleaner or finisher) was not manipulated and so the research is high in external validity, as it was conducted in a fully functioning factory using real factory workers, and therefore the findings can be generalised to real life situations. So Johansson’s research has real life applications about how to reduce absenteeism by increasing workers control and reducing workers workload to improve workers’ wellbeing which will have a positive economic consequence.  
  • Population Validity-The samples involved in many workplace stress research studies may not represent the wider population of workers. E.g. the sample in Marmot’s study was London civil servants.  Although males and females were represented these participants may experience specific stressors related only to their area of work. So it is difficult to generalise the results to other groups so the population validity may be questioned.
  • Ignores Individual Personality Type- important variables e.g. personality, are not controlled for in some workplace stress research. In Johansson’s study personality type was a possible extraneous variable as they did not account for individual differences. people who are ambitious, impatient and competitive (A) are attracted to stressful jobs(e.g. finishers).Therefore it may be their personality type rather than the job they do which may be the factor in their experience of stress and any related ill health.  Thus personality may be an extraneous variable.   
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Personality Factors Type A&B AO1 theory

Type A: Time Pressured-Always working to deadlines, Unhappy doing nothing, Multi tasking, doing several jobs at the same time, Fast movement and rapid speech

Competitive-Excessively oriented towards achievement, Plays to win, whether at work or on the sports field

Hostility-Easily irritated and impatient with co-workers, Easily angered

Type A personalities are more likely to have raised blood pressure and more circulating stress hormones, leading to ill health; especially coronary heart disease.

Type B Behaviour: more patient, relaxed, easy going character, who doesn't demand perfection from themselves or others. So Type B’s are less vulnerable to stress related illness.   

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Personality Factors Type A&B AO1 research

Friedman et al (1976) Stress & CHD- Aims:Friedman et al (1976) wanted to investigate that Type A’s are less able to cope with stress than Type B’s because of their personality characteristics, and so more likely to experience CHD. 

Procedures: 3154 healthy men aged 39 – 59, living around San Francisco were interviewed, their initial interview classed them as Type A or B.  The researchers controlled for extraneous factors that might influence CHD, such as family history, lifestyle, alcohol consumption and obesity. The study was over an 8½-year period (longitudinal study)

Findings: At the end of the 8½ years there was a significant correlation between personality type and vulnerability to CHD. 257 men had suffered a heart attack; 69% were Type A and 31% were Type B. No one at the extreme end of Type B suffered a heart attack.  A follow-up study 22 years later, found 214 men had died from CHD, of which 119 were Type A and 95 Type B (a less impressive difference). 

Conclusions:   Friedman’s study offers strong support for the idea that aspects of a person’s personality are associated with CHD, with a key factor being stress. The fact that the death rate was lower in the second study may be because some people take preventative measures once they know they are ill.


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Personality Factors Hardiness AO1 theory

Kobasa argues that people differ considerably in their ability to cope with stressors. She used the term hardiness to describe aspects of personality that make some individuals resistant to the effects of stress.

Commitment – sense of purpose and involvement in their work and social lives. The world is seen as something to engage with and committed people resist giving up in times of stress.

Control – stronger sense of control than non-hardy individuals. They believe they can influence events in their life including stressors rather than attributing control to outside factors.

Challenge –see change and problems as an opportunity rather than a source of stress. People who are challenge orientated seek out change and growth.

For Kobasa this psychological hardiness is acting as a kind of buffer or protection against the negative effects of stressors. Having such a personality will result in lowered physiological arousal, when in the presence of stressors, leading to a reduction in stress related disorders. People who have high scores on hardiness measures are less likely to suffer from stress related psychological and physical disorders.

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Personality Factors Hardiness AO1 research

Kobasa 1979

Aims: To identify personality factors that affect an individuals response to stress.

Procedures: The stress scores of 800 business executives and managers were determined using Holmes and Rahe SRRS and hardiness was assessed using a hardiness questionnaire.

Findings: They found that 150 of the executives were experiencing high levels of stress. These individuals differed in their illness record over the same period. Those with low levels of illness were more likely to have scored high on all three personality characteristics of the hardy personality.

Conclusions: People with the characteristics that make up a hardy personality are better able to cope with stress.


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Personality Factors A02

Androcentric Sample-F only used male participants and K used participants with white collar careers (mostly male); so it’s difficult to generalise the findings to females as men and women respond biologically differently to stressors. Due to the hormone Oxytocin, men react to a stressor through ‘fight or flight’, where women show a ‘tend and befriend’ reponse. The effect of the hormone is reduced in men because of testosterone but amplified in women because of oestrogen.  So men are more likely to develop stress related disorders.  This also shows that personality types should not be the only individual difference considered when doing stress related reseach. 

Real Life Application-A positive application of the findings from F and K is they have been applied to improving health. F found that after 5 years, those CHD patients who were taught how to modify their behaviour had fewer second heart attacks than those who received no treatment. K'S findings has leadto the development of a stress management technique called hardiness training which increases the three C’s who aren't hardy. e.g. Navy Seals are now screened for hardiness, so hardiness training becoming more wide spread.

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Personality Factors A02 pt2

Hostility-For F's research; Because Type A behaviour consists of a number of personality characteristics (time pressured, competitive & hostility) it's not clear which aspect of Type A behaviour is most strongly linked with CHD. but when F reviewed his research, he found that hostility and negative emotions was the key element linking Type A to CHD. For K'S research; 3C's have not ever been clearly defined. some researchers shown that control may be an important part of commitment and challenge rather than separate from them. So K only looked are the role of control in protection against stress rather than a full personality. This threatens the internal validity of K's and F's research.

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Bodily Response

The Sympathomedullary Pathway (sam)

  • A stressor is percieved the hypothalamus
  • It activates the sympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  
  • This causes the adrenal medulla (the inner part of the adrenal glands) to release adrenaline and noradrenaline into the bloodstream. 
  • These hormones increase heart rate and blood pressure and this helps to mobilise energy resources quickly. 
  • Also oxygen is mobilised to the muscles as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress.

The Pituitary-Adrenal System (hpa)

  • The hypothalamus also stimulates the pituitary gland by sending the chemical messenger.
  • The pituitary gland releases the stress hormone ACTH into the bloodstream.
  • This travels to the adrenal cortex (outer part of the adrenal glands) and stimulates the release of corticosteroids (Cortisol).
  • Cortisol helps release glucose from the liver; and assists the conversion of stored fat to energy and suppresses the immune system.
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The Parasympathetic Branch is associated with physiological relaxation.  It is the counter reaction to the Fight Or Flight response that occurs a few minutes after when the initial danger/stressor has subsided.  It is sometimes referred to as Rest & Digest.  It is characterised by a decrease in oxygen consumption, a lowering of blood pressure, a slowing of heart rate and relaxation of the muscles. 

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Immune System Kiecolt-Glaser AO1

  • Aims: Kiecolt-Glaser investigated whether the stress of important examinations had an effect on immune system functioning
  • Procedures: They used a natural experiment to study 75 medical students. In condition 1, blood samples were taken: one month before their final examinations (low stress), and the 2nd condition had blood taken during the examinations (high stress). Immune function was measured by the number of NK cells in the blood samples. (NK = natural killer cells destroy antigens i.e. bacteria). The students were also given questionnaires to assess psychological variables e.g. life events and loneliness. She then correlated the results of these sets of data.
  • Findings: NK cell activity was reduced in the 2nd blood sample compared with the1st sample. NK cell activity was most reduced in participants who also reported high levels of life events and loneliness in the questionnaire.
  • Conclusions: This suggests that short-term stressors,e.g. examination stress, reduce immune functioning, potentially leaving the individual vulnerable to illness and infections.
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