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Stress Pathways

Stress - a general response to any demans made of the body, it occurswhen there is a lack of balance between percieved requirements of a situation and the abilities you have to cope with those requirements.

Acute stress - Sympathetic-Adrenal-Medullary system (SAM)

When stressed, the hypothalamus stimulates the Sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It can then go to the parasympathetic pathway and the body returns to 'normal' or it can go down the sympathetic nervous system. This releases chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that stimulate the adrenal medulla. Adrenaline (increased heart rate) and Noradrenaline (increased blood sugar levels) are then released. This is where fight or flight takes place.

Chronic stress - Pituitary-Adrenal system (HPA)

When stressed,  the hypothalamus produces CRF (corticotrophin releasing factor) which stimulates the pituitary gland into releasing ACTH (stress hormone). The ACTH stimulates the adrenal cortex into producing cortex, causing stress effects in the body.

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Consequences of Stress Response

Cardiovascular problems: increased blood pressure associated with sympathetic nervous system can lead to physical damage to blood vessels leading to heart disease.

Immunosuppression: too much cortisol suppresses the immune system

Individual differences: males tend to have 'fight or flight' response whereas women have 'tend and befriend' response regulated by the hormone oxytocin.

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One strength to the stress pathways is its support from empiracal evidence. Baxter found that people who did not have adrenal glands cannot produce enough cortiol and therefore needed to be given additional quantities if stressed in order to survive, showing  the pathways have high validity.

A weakness to the pathways is that it ignores individual differences, it was not taken into account that people are able to cope with different amounts of stress therefore lacking generalisability.

A strength to the pathways is that the body's response to stress can be measured. The levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline can be measured in the blood stream as quantitive data. Therefore results can be analysed easily and conclusions can be drawn.

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The Immune System

Immune system - fights off invaders that cause disease

Antigens - foreign bodies

Leucocytes - white blood cells (bind to antigen and destroy)

Phagocytes - -a type of white blood cell that provides a general barrier

T-cells - type of lymphocyte (WBC) that attacks anything carrying disease

B-cells - type of lymphocyte that destroys particulat antigens

Antibodies - produced after prolonged stress (immunosuppression)

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The Immune System

Kecolt-Glaser et al

  • Set out to see if exam stress may affec the functioning of the immune system
  • He used a natural experment and a volunteer sample that consisted of 75 first year medical students
  • They took 2 blood samples: one a month before their final exams (low stress) and the second was taken during their exams (high stress).
  • The immune system functioning was measured by acitivty of NK cells and found NK cell activity was significantly reduced in the second blood sample compared to the first.

Concluded that exam stress reduces the immune functioning.


  • The sample was all medical students first year, cannot be representative and sample was volunteer so biased therefore lacking population validity
  • Natural experiment, high ecological validity and mundane realism as was not manipulated by experimenter. No demand characteristics.
  • No variables manipulated, avoids ethical issues as they were protected from harm as no stress caused deliberately
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The Immune System

Cohen et al (1993)

  • Set out to investigate the role of general life stress on vulnerability to the common cold.
  • Used a natural experimnet of 394 participants and they completed a questionnaire on the number of stressful life events, said how stressed they were and if experienced negative emotions
  • Scores combined into a stress index, then participants exposed to low dose of common cold virus.
  • Found 82% of participants were affected by the virus and found that chances of developing the cold positively correlated with a higher stress index score. 

Concluded life stress and negative emotions reduce effectiveness of our immune system.


  • Correlational study, means cause and effect cannot be found, only relationship
  • Not ethical as participants were not protected from harm as they were exposed to the common cold, therefore needed informed consent and debrief for findings to be used.
  • There are no measures of the immun system however other studies support findings.
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Cardiovascular Disorders

Acute stressors:

  • Willaims set out to see if anger is linked to heart disease
  • 13000 people completed anger scale.
  • Found 6 years after the test people with higher scores were 2 1/2 times more likely to have a heart attack than those who scored low.
  • Concluded anger may lead to cardiovascular disorders.

Chronic stressors:

  • Rusek set out to see the risk of heart disease in medical proffesions.
  • One group of doctors (GPs) were designated as high stress and the others were classed as low stress (dermatologists).
  • Found that heart disease was 11.9% greater in GPs.
  • Concluded that chronic stress links to a higher risk of heart disease
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Williams used a questionnaire, participants may change answers to what they believe is socially exceptable (demand characteristics) so lacks validity.

Russek, you cannot be sure that the stress causes heart disease, other factors may be present. Its a correlational study.

Supporting evidence, both studies show same results which suggests high levels of stress and anger can increase heart disease showing it contains high reliabiliy and internal validity.

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Psychiatric Disorders

Stress and depression:

  • Brown and harris found women who suffered chronic stress were more likely to suffer from depression.
  • And also found working class women were more prone to depression that middle class women as they would leave their children in care of others when at work.
  • Melchoir et al carried out a survey over a year on 1000 people in a New Zeland.
  • Found 15% in high stress suffered from clinical depression compared to 8% in low stress. Women were generally worse.


  • The diathesis stress model proposes that in order for a person to develop psychiatric disorders they must possess a biological vulnerability to that disorder.
  • Melchoir was large sample over a long time period so can be generalise
  • Gender biased as only looked at women.
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Life Changes

Life changes are events that require a major transition or change in our life.

If our normal routines are disrupted we have to think about how to do things that we normally do naturally and without thinking.

The bigger the change, the larger the adjustment we have to make and this takes more energy.

Overall evaluations:

  • Major life changes are relatively rare for monst people so minor daily hassels may be more significant to the source of stress
  • Reald worl application
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Life Changes

Holmes and Rahe:

  • Set out to test if life changes are related to physical illness
  • They developed the SRRS (social readjustment rating scale) which involved 43 potential stessful events and participants had to rate what they thought each one would be.
  • They collecting information from 394 participants.
  • They found 'death of a spouse' was rated the most stressful.
  • If the life change unit (LCU) was above 150, it was predicted a 30% increase in the likelihood of stress related illness and if it was above 300 there was a 50% increase.

Concluded the more stressed you are, the higher the risk of physical illness.


  • Individual diffferent not taken into account, e.g. divorce depends on if they had children and how long they were together.
  • Correlational, doesn't show cause and effect, only a link (health could be causing stress)
  • First of its kind, inspired others therefore increasing knowledge and improving the scale (no longer used in serious experiments).
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Life Changes

Rahe et al:

  • Set out to investigate relationship between stressful life events + increased risk of illness
  • Took 2700 healthy male US naval personnels and make them fill in the SRRS scale for the previous 6 months and then whilst on tour detailed medical records were kept.
  • Found a weak positive correlation +0.118 between LCU scores and illness scores.

Concluded the more stressed you are, the higher the risk of physical illness.


  • It was an oppurtunity sample so participants were selected by the experimenter meaning results cannot be generalised as it is a biased sample.
  • Lacks population validity as we are unable to generalise to other groups, proffesions and nationalities.
  • Using a questionnaire is unreliable as they may have given socially desirable responses and may not have wanted to admit personal events. Cannot be used as valid explaination.
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Daily Hassels and Uplifts

Hassels - these are continuous, mino, frequent, common occurances that cause us stress.

They have an accumulating effect, so if they build they can lead to illness because the stress response is triggered often.

Uplifts - positive events that conteract the negative hassles.

Delongis et al (1982):

  • Created a scale that contained 53 items that a particpant could indicate how much of a daily hassel or uplift they were
  • 0 was N/A, 1 was somewhat, 2 was quiet a bit and 3 was a great deal.
  • It allowed you to focus on the positive and negative events occuring in a person's daily life.
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Daily Uplifts


  • Set out to investigate if daily uplifts affect performance at work.
  • Collected data from nurses and asked them to keep a diary for a month recorded their daily hassels and uplifts at work. Asked them to rate their own performances too.
  • They found that daily hassels increased strain and decreased performance and that nurses found uplifts conteracted the negatve effects of daily hassels.
  • Concluded that daily uplifts improve performance on the job.


  • Correlational, doesn't show cause and effect therefore cannot conclude that daily uplifts improved their performance at work.
  • Biased, nurses may have been too harsh on their rating of performance or given themselves higher that what they should have. Lacks validity as people judge performances and ratings differently.
  • Biased sample, lacks external validity as findings cannot be generalised to other jobs.
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Daily Hassels

Bouteyre et al:

  • Set out to investigate the relationship betwenn daily hassels and mental health of students during the transition from school to university.
  • Used first year psychology students at a french university.
  • Carried out a questionnaire that consisted of Kanner's scale and Beck's Depression Inventory.
  • Found 41% of students suffered from depressive symptoms in the first year and  concluded there was a positive correlation between scores on the hassels scale and rhe incidence of depressive symptoms.


  • Used retrospective data, they are recalled and factors that affect the reconstruction of memory may not have been taken into consideration therefore results are not reliable and chance of them being inaccurate.
  • Correlational data, does not show cause and effect just relationship
  • Real world application, has high mundane realism as everyone that goes to uni can experience stress in their first year due to the transition.
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Workplace Stress

Marmot et al:

  • Set out to investigate the relationship between stress, workload and control.
  • He took 7327 civil servants and made them answer a questionnaire on workload, job control and the amount of social control.
  • They were checked for cardiovascular diseases and then reassed 5 years later.
  • Found workers with less control were 4X more likely to die of heart disease and they didn't think that workload and stress related illness linked.
  • Concluded loack of control was associated with illness.


  • No control over extraneous variables such as personality meaning results for the stufy are meaningless as these factors could affect results.
  • Lacks validity as a self report technique means participants can respond accordingly if they know the researchers aim.
  • Correlational, cannot assume low control causes illness as workers may just have poor health, therefore cannot draw strong conclusion from the study results.
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Workplace Stress


  • Set out to investigate if work stressors increased stress related illness.
  • They collected from 2 groups of people, 10 cleaners (control group) and 14 Swedish sawmill finishers (highly skilled).
  • Levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline in their urine on work and rest dats were take and illness and absense was taken note of.
  • Found sawmill workers secreted more stress related hormones on days of work than rest and showed higher levels than control group.
  • Concluded combination of work related stressors lead to long term psychologcal arousal which leads to stress related illness.


  • Did not control individual differences, could effect results to findings meaningless.
  • Real life application, work places can now offer methods to help employees cope and reduce the risk of them being ill short term or long term.
  • Small sample size so cannot be generalised to othe jobs and results are biased to sawmill workers.
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Personality Types

It has been suggested that a reason for people being more sensitive to stressors more than others is due to their personality type.

Type A personality:

  • Characterised by constant time pressure, competitiveness, impatient and aggressiveness

Type B personality:

  • This was created as a contrast from those who didn't show type a characteristics. Instead thes people were patient, relaxed and easy going.

Friedman and Rosenman:

  • examined participants (3000 men) for signs of CHD and personalities were assessed through interviews. 
  • After over 8 years it was found participants with type A personalities were twice as likely to die from cardiovascular problems and have higher cholestrol and blood pressure
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Personality Types


  • Self report measure, vulnerable to giving socially desirable answers making the findings unreliable.
  • Sample lacks population validity, cannot generalise to females (men were known to more likely suffer from heart disease), therefore cannot be used as an explaination of behaviour.
  • Lack of consistency in results, study has been replicated and results found have not been similar, suggesting findings are unreliable.
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Personality Types

Hardy Personaility:

Said to help us understand why some people are resistant to stress. 3 characteristics:

  • Control - sees themselves as in control
  • Commitment - feel they have a strong sense of purpose
  • Challenge - see challenges in life as something to overcome.


  • Studied 800 American business executives using the SRRS scales.
  • 150 were classified as high stress, some had low illness records but others had high.
  • Suggests that something else was modyfying the results as the same group displayed different illness records.
  • Concluded some matched the hardy personality and others didn't so dealth with stress worse.
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Personality Types


  • Self report method, socially desirable traits may affect results making them lack validity.
  • Sample not generalisable so cannot be used to understand behaviour in everyday life.
  • Real life application: Led to military screening for hardiness personality types in their selection process meaning they have a stronger selection as they are able to deal with stress a lot better than those without this personality type.
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Psychological Methods of Stress Management

Meichenbaum created Stress Inoculation Training as he believed we could change the way we think about stressors and the way we react to them, 3 phases:

  • Conceptualisation - client is taught to see stressors as 'problems to be solved' and to break them down into manageable components.
  • Skill Aquisition - where client is taught coping stratigies to help her cope with stressors more effectively (controlled breathing) and given positive ways of thinking.
  • Application - client puts skills they have learnt in their lives, therapist takes clients through stressful situations to apply their newly learnt coping techniques.


  • Strength is it deals with underlying causes rather than just their symptoms. Clients are then able to learn the causes and how to prevent it therefore more effective than drugs.
  • Requires a lot of time, effort, motivation and money. Drugs can be a much easier way to manage stress but only deals with symptoms.
  • Sheehy and Horan found that sessions of SIT reduced anxiety amoung students and improved academic performance.
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Psychological Methods of Stress Management

Hardiness training was created by Kobasa in the aim to increase self confidence and a sense of control. 3 stages:

  • Focusing - client is taught to spot and stop physical signs of stress.
  • Reliving Stressful Situations - client analyses the situations and their responses to them, this gives them an idea of how they are currently coping.
  • Self Improvement -Insights can be used to move forward and learn new techniques.


  • Found to be effective, currently used by Olympic swimmers (Fletcher)
  • Deals with the undelying causes instead of just the symptoms, making it more useful than drug treatments as the person feels in control and can be used in the long term.
  • It attempts to change their personality so can be very difficult and a slow process, it is asking the client to become a different person.
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Biological Methods of Stress Management

Benzodiazephines (BZs)

  • These are most commonly used to treat stress and anxiety as it slows down the activity of the central nervous system.
  • GABA (natural form of stress and anxiety relief) is a neurotransmitter and BZ increases its activity by binding to the site of GABA.
  • Serotinin is a neurontransmitter that has arousal effects and BZ reduces this activity

Beta-Blockers (BBs)

  • Also used to treat stress
  • They reduce adrenaline and noradrenaline (SAM pathway) by blocking the receptors on the cells in these areas meaning the organs cannot stimulate as a result of the fight or flight response.
  • Heart rate therefore does not increwase and blood vessels do not constrict meaning the person is more calm and relaxed.
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Biological Methods of Stress Management


  • Drug methods require very little effort, all you need to do is remember to take the pills meaning it is a much easier and less time consuming method to deal with stress.
  • Biological methods only deal with symptoms rather than the problem, if patients stop taking the they can get withdrawl symptoms showing they are not completely cured.
  • BBs are said to be better than BZ as there are no serious side effects and more people who tak them can function normally.
  • BZs has been found to have serious side effects including impairment and lack of energy, these effects all interfere with the patients ability to function properly.
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