Psychology: Stress

Stress and personality

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  • Created by: Laura
  • Created on: 17-11-10 13:56

Stress and personality

HARDINESS: Challange, control and commitment


Aim: How personality effects our response to stress (links between type A behaviour and CHD)

Method: Natural experiment, longitudinal experiment (8 1/2 years)

Sample: 3200 Californian men - aged 39 - 59

Measurements: Structured interviews

Findings: 257 men in the sample developed CHD and 70% were type A

Supporting evidence: Myrtek (2001) and Matthew and Haynes (1986)

Contradictory evidence: Williams (2003) and Kirkaldy et al (2007)

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Emotion focused and problem focused coping

Problem focused coping: Strategies that attempt to do something active to alleviate or eliminate the stressful situation. These include taking control, evaluate the pros and cons of different opinions, suppressing competing activities.

Advantages: The problem is solved


Emotion focused coping: Strategies that attempt to regulate the emotional distress associated with stressful or potentially stressful events. This includes denial, focusing on venting emotions, and seeking social support. It is viewed as being more passive. Approach includes talking about how you are feeling and avoidance; for example, denial and avoiding anything which is the problem.

Advantages: Reassures people in catastrophes e.g. praying

Disadvantages: Does not solve the problem

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Physiological methods of stress management


They reduce central arousal. GABA reach GABA receptors on the outside of the receiving neuron. This opens a channel that allows negatively chloride ions make the neuron less responsive to other neurotransmitters. The GABA is supported by BZs which result in excitatory neurotransmitters reducing.

How do BETA BLOCKERS work?

They reduce the activity of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are key agents in sympathetic arousal. They do not enter the brain but directly reduce activity in pathways of the sympathetic nervous system around the body.

Strengths: Speed of effectiveness, research support and avaliability.

Weaknesses: Side effects, dependancy and only target symptoms - not causes.

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Psychological methods of stress management

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and reduce percieved demands or to improve your coping abilities.

What is SIT?

Stress inoculation training - prepares individuals for future stressors and promotes resiliance.


Skills training:

Real life application:


Reduces physical tension and medication can reduce anxieties. The effect of this tends to be short-lived, so to be effective they need to become a regular part of a persons lifestyle.



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Stress and the immune system




Aim: To investigate whether the stress of important examinations has an effect on the functioning of the immune system.

Method: Natural experiment

Design: Repeated measures design

Sample: 75 medical students

Measurements: Blood samples (before and during exams) and T cell lymphocyte activity in the blood samples

Findings: T cell activity was significantly reduced in the second blood sample. T cell activity was most reduced in participants who also reported high levels of life events and lonliness.



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Work place stressors

Work place stressors:

  • Work demands
  • Physical environment
  • Lack of control
  • Interpersonal conflict


Aim: Investigate whether work stressors lead to stress related illness

Method: Natural experiment (stress or no stress)

Design: Independent measures design

Sample: 14 'finishers' and 10 cleaners

Measurements: Physiological arousal and amount of illness

Findings: The 'finishers' secreted more stress hormones on work days and had higher levels of stress related illness.



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Life changes

What are life changes?

What is SRRS?

Evaluate the SRRS:

  • Assumes any change is stressful regardless of whether it is usually seen as positive or negative
  • Some of these life events are ambiguous
  • The list of life events is incomplete
  • Most of the 43 life changed included in the SRRS are not everyday occurences
  • Lazarus (1999) says life events are distal causes of stress


Aim: To find out if scores on the SRRS correlated with the subsequent onsent of illness



Sample: 2,500 male American students


Findings: Positive correlation of +0.118 between LCS and illness. Although correlation was small it indicated a meaningful relationship




WEAKNESSES: Androcentrically biased and individual differences

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Stress hormones released by glands

Hypothalamus: Corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF)

Pituitary gland: Adreno-Corticotrophin (ACTH)

Adrenal cortex: Corticosteroids - in particular; cortisol

Adrenal medulla: Adrenaline and noradrenaline

ACUTE STRESSOR: An immediate stressor that is not long lasting - perhaps a shock or a deadline, something that is not long lasting.

CHRONIC STRESSOR: A problem that lasts for a long time and is ongoing - perhaps and illness or major relationship problem.

Our first response to stress is the FIGHT or FLIGHT system (Cannon 1914) - the body influences this response through the SAM system

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SAM pathway

The sympathetic adrenal medullary pathway (SAM):

  • Hypothalamus releases a hormone CRF
  • Hormone detected in the Locus Correlus in the brain which activates the SNS
  • SNS sends the neurotransmitter noradrenaline to the adrenal medulla
  • Adrenal medulla converts the noradrenaline into adrenaline ready to fight or flight

The FIGHT or FLIGHT system does not get rid of the initial response, eventually the stress may turn into a chronic from an acute.

The SAM system will try and deal with the stressor, after a period of time if the SAM has not been able to get rid of the stressor the HPA will step in by providing more energy to help the body to keep going.

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The hypothalamus pituitary adrenal system (HPA)

The hypothalamus pituitary adrenal system (HPA):

  • Hypothalamus - releasing factor
  • Anterior pituitary 
  • ACTH (through blood)
  • Adrenal cortex
  • Cortisol

Cortisol is the stress hormone and it enables the breakdown of glucose to provide energy so that the person can keep fighting the stressor. However, too much cortisol can cause problems with thinking, high blood pressure and lowered immune functioning. 

Negative feedback loop: When too much cortisol is circulating the blood stream, the hypothalamus will switch off the HPA axis so the body turns to normal.

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