Biological Psychology - Stress

Stress as a bodily response
• The body’s response to stress, including the
pituitary-adrenal system and the
sympathomedullary pathway in outline
• Stress-related illness and the immune system
Sympathomedullary pathway
• When somebody is affected by an acute stressor, the ‘fight or flight’
response is usually stimulated. The process
The ANS (autonomic nervous system) is aroused which is split
into the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System) and the parasympathetic
When the SNS is aroused, noradrenaline is released into the
bloodstream which increases heart rate, pupil size and blood pressure.
The SAM (sympathomedullary system) is aroused at the same
time as the SNS and the SAM allows adrenaline to be released from
the adrenal glands, the adrenaline increases amount of oxygen in the
bloodstream going towards the muscles and the brain.
The SNS and SAM is used to prepare the animal for the ‘fight or
flight’ response but the parasympathetic branch put the animal into a
state of relaxation after this response has been carried out.
pituitary-adrenal system
• Higher centres of the brain send a message to the
hypothalamus that there are chronic stressors and the
hypothalamus sends the hormone, CRF, to the pituitary
• The pituitary glands then send the hormone, ACTH, to
the adrenal cortex.
• The adrenal cortex sends the hormone, cortisol, in the
bloodstream to the rest of the body and the effects of
cortisol are lower sensitivity to pain and
• This cycle is repeated and the levels of ACTH and CRF
can be altered to alter the level of cortisol in the body.
Exam Question
• 1 Outline the main features of the pituitaryadrenal system.
• (3 marks)
• Main features are that the hypothalamus communicates with the
pituitary gland,
• causing it to release ACTH.
• This hormone is then detected in the bloodstream by the adrenal
• Which then releases corticosteroids.
• The corticosteroids have a range of effects, such as causing the liver
to release glucose.
• An accurate diagram could also receive credit.
• 1 mark for a brief outline and 3 marks for a correct and coherent
outline of the features.
• How did you do?
Stress-related illness and the immune
• Kiecolt-Glaser et al (1984) did a natural experiment to
investigate the effect of acute stress on illness levels. They
used students as participants and measured their immune
system activity a month before their examinations and
measured it again during the examinations. They found that
immune system activity decreased during the exams,
presumably because there is more acute stress.
• Evans et al – showed how acute stress could boost immune
system activity. They conducted an experiment which used
students as participants; the students were given a small
talk to give to other students which is a mild acute stressor.
The amount of slgA (an antibody) during the time of the
talk was higher than the amount of slgA before they had to
give the talk.
Stress-related illness and the immune
• Kiecolt-Glaser et al (2005) – showed how chronic stressors
negatively affect immune system activity. They did a laboratory
experiment which used hostile couples and less hostile couples as
participants. All of the couples were given blister wounds and the
time it took for the wounds to heal was a measure of how much the
immune system activity was. It took longer for the more hostile
couples to heal their blister wound than the less hostile couples.
This shows that chronic stressors reduce immune system activity.
• Stress can also have an indirect effect on illness as it is associated
with all manner of bad habits (coping strategies), for example
smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet due to lack of time,
lack of exercise for the same reason, lack of sleep etc.
• Sandy and Vandita play for the same netball
team. Two weeks ago, while playing in a
competition, they both grazed their elbows.
Vandita’s wound is healing well, but Sandy’s
wound is taking much longer to heal. Sandy is
very worried about the plans for her wedding and
her forthcoming house move.
• Using your knowledge of psychology, explain why
Sandy’s wound is taking longer to heal than
Vandita’s. (4 marks)
There are a variety of different ways to answer this question: credit appropriate alternative
Candidates could focus on critical life events as well as the underlying biological mechanisms.
Research has shown that stress reduces the effectiveness of the immune system. People
experiencing long-term stress are more likely to become ill and to take longer to heal than those
who are not stressed. Sandy is experiencing two events that are on the SRRS and are known
to be major stressors.
1 mark for a basic statement of the relationship between stress and the immune system and a
further 3 marks for elaboration of this. For full marks, the elaboration must be linked to Sandy’s
situation. Credit can also be given to research evidence used to support/illustrate the
Stress in everyday life
• Life changes and daily hassles as sources of
• Workplace stress including the effects of
workload and control
• Personality factors, including Type A and Type
B behaviour, hardiness
• Psychological and biological methods of stress
management, including stress inoculation
therapy and drug therapy
Life changes as sources of stress
• Life changes as stressors
Holmes and Rahe made the SRRS (Social
Readjustment Rating Scale) which measured the
amount of LCU (life change units). Rahe tested
this with the navy by giving them the military
version of the SRRS. Rahe noticed that there was
a positive correlation between the amount of
LCU of some soldiers and the level of illness over
the next few weeks.
Daily hassles as sources of stress
• Gulian – showed the accumulation effect as he found that people who
have a stressful day at work have a more stressful journey home.
• Gervais – asked nurses to keep track of the number of daily uplifts and the
number of daily hassles and job performance and found that daily hassles
reduce job performance and daily uplifts improve job performance.
• Daily hassles are so stressful because:
– Accumulation effect (Gulian) – they build up.
– Amplification effect – the effect of daily hassles are made worse by the effect
of life changes.
• Workplace stressors
Outline and evaluate research into life changes
and/or daily hassles as sources of stress. (12)
AO1: Research into life changes can focus on the work of Holmes and Rahe in
developing the SRRS as well as into the use of the scale by Rahe et al. Several
psychologists have investigated daily hassles as a source of stress, such as Lazarus;
Kanner et al; De Longis et al. If daily hassles are described credit can be given to
the ideas about frequency, duration and intensity (the accumulation and
amplification effects). Credit can be given for a description of theory/model or
studies. If studies are used there are different ways of approaching this question.
Students can focus on the methodology or findings; they can describe one study in
detail or more than one but in less detail. Students can outline either life changes
or daily hassles or both, but clearly there will be a breadth/depth trade-off here
depending on which way they approach this question. (One in more detail, more
than one but in less detail.) NB Examiners should be aware that there is a whole
range of studies which can receive credit. AO2: The evaluation can come from a
consideration of methodological issues: use of selfreport scales, retrospective
data, correlations, population validity. Students can also use one to evaluate the
other, for example, some psychologists argue that daily hassles are a better
predictor of stress-related illness than are life changes.
Workplace stress including the effects
of workload and control
Karasek Model of the relationship between demand (workload), control (decision
latitude) and job strain (stress)
Marmot conducted a study which involved civil servants (Whitehall), he
gave them each a questionnaire to fill out on job control and workload.
After a few years, he found that people who have low job control were
more likely to get a cardiovascular disorder than those people that have
high job control. He also found no link between the workload and the risk of
getting a cardiovascular disorder.
• Brett and Sahil both work for the same company and
have been talking about recent changes at work. Brett
said that his pay is now dependent on other people’s
performance and that his department has introduced
tighter deadlines and more rigid working hours. Since
these changes were made, he has had more days off
sick and is concerned that his health is beginning to
suffer. There have been no changes in Sahil’s
department and he said that he hardly ever takes days
off sick. Explain why Brett might have been affected by
the changes in his department. Refer to psychological
research into workplace stress in your answer.
The stem suggests several aspects of the workplace that could be responsible
for Brett’s days off. He might be affected by a lack of control in his
environment, having to keep to tight deadlines, the fact that his pay is
dependent on the performance of his colleagues. Candidates do not have to
refer to all these factors, but they do need to show some engagement with
the stem in their answer. They also must refer to psychological research into
workplace stress. • Answers that merely show knowledge of relevant aspects
of research, up to 3 marks. • Answers that merely engage with stem but do
not provide relevant research, up to 3 marks. • Answers that make no
reference to relevant aspects of research and also no engagement with the
stem, 0 marks. Candidates do not have to refer to specific studies but what
research has shown is creditworthy. There are several studies that could be
used to illustrate Brett’s behaviour, Johannson et al; Marmot et al; Van der
Doef & Maes; credit should be given to any relevant study ie one explicitly
looking at stress in the workplace. Candidates could also include factors about
stress and personality, but for top bands they must shape their answer to
workplace stress.
Personality factors, including Type A
and Type B behaviour.
Friedman and Rosenman said somebody who has Type A personality is motivated,
competitive, impatient and hostile.
They conducted an experiment which involved giving participants a structure
interview which would assess whether or not they are Type A. This was assessed
by the way that they answered the questions and their responses. After a few
years, Friedman and Rosenman found that those who had a Type A personality
were twice more likely to get a cardiovascular disorder than those people who did
not have the Type A Personality.
Evaluation: Myrtek did a meta-analysis and found that the only attribute that the
Type A Personality has that can cause a cardiovascular disorder is hostility.
• If somebody has the hardy personality, then that person
can cope with stress very well, sees life’s challenges as
problems to be overcome rather than as stressors.
• Those people have a strong sense of control over their life,
they are committed.
• Kobasa conducted a study which involved making
participants do a hardy test and a life changes test.
Afterwards, Kobasa found that the people who scored high
on the hardiness test were better at coping with stress and
therefore they were less likely to be ill than those who
scored low on the hardiness test. A high score on both the
hardiness test and SSRS counteracted each other.
• Roy and Mick are members of a football team; both play to
the same high standard. Roy never minds if the team does
not win; he just enjoys playing with his team-mates and
spending time with them after the match. Mick always
wants to win and gets angry if the team loses.
• 3 (a) Which personality type is each person likely to have?
Mick..................................................................... (2 marks)
• 3 (b) Explain whether Roy or Mick is more likely to suffer
from a stress-related illness. Use research in your
explanation. (4 marks)
• 3 (a) Roy = Type B / B / Personality Type B and Mick = Type A / A /
Personality Type A (1 mark for each correct answer)
3 (b) It is people with Type A behaviour who are more likely to
suffer the negative effects of stress. So in the stem it is Mick
(competitive and angry when loses) who is more likely to suffer
from CHD. Friedman and Rosenman research indicated that it is
those with Type A who become ill as a consequence of their stress.
Type B people such as Roy who doesn‟t get physically aroused at
losing, are much less likely to experience the “fight or flight”
response and so less likely to have raised blood pressure etc.
Examiners need to remember that „research‟ can include both
theories and studies. For full marks there must be explicit
engagement with the stem.
Psychological methods of stress
management, including stress inoculation
• Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Stress Inoculation Training (SIT))
Conceptualisation – the patient is taught the concept that the
causes of stress can be psychological.
The patient are then taught the ways to deal with stress.
The patient is given a real scenario where (s)he would have to
use the techniques learnt to overcome this stressful situation.
Meichenbaum compared Stress Inoculation Training with Systematic
Desensitisation for people who have snake phobias to get rid of their
phobia. The findings were that not only was stress inoculation training
more effective in treating the phobia, but it also helped with future
• Hardiness training.
Kerry is a talented badminton player who has
just been promoted to the first division.
However, she finds these top league games very
stressful because she thinks that she is not as
good as the other players and she believes that
she is going to lose every point. Now her game is
beginning to suffer. Explain how stress
inoculation therapy (SIT) could be used to help
Kerry. In your answer you must refer to details
from the passage above. (8)
SIT: Three stages allowing Kerry to identify the sources of stress, think
about them in a different way, give her strategies for dealing with
future stress. First stage – conceptualisation: Kerry will think about the
source of stress. Second stage – skills acquisition: the therapist will
teach Kerry relaxation techniques and self-coping statements. Third
stage – real-world application: Kerry will practise these skills in training
sessions. Alternatively, the therapist might challenge Kerry and ask
where is the evidence to show she is not as good as other players,
especially as she has just been promoted? Kerry might be asked to
keep a diary recording her performance and see exactly what each
outcome was, so she has hard evidence about her wins and losses.
This can be used to check the validity of her beliefs. SIT can be
explained in different ways: either stage-based or in a more applied
way without explicit reference to the stages. For full marks there must
be explicit engagement with the stem.
Biological methods of stress
management - drug therapy
• Benzodiazepines: e.g. valium. These act on synapses and neurotransmitters, promoting natural
biochemical substance called GABA = the body’s natural form of anxiety relief.
GABA reduces serotonin levels , decreases arousal of neurons ‡ reduced anxiety.
GABA slows down nerve cell activity, allowing chloride ions into neurons, slowing activity and causing relaxation.
Side effects = sleepiness and dependence
• Buspirone: Enhances the effects of serotonin, reducing anxiety. Side effects = depression
How do they work?
All drugs are related to the bodily processes involved in the stress response, i.e. they intervene in
the activity of the ANS.
Easy to use Effective Available Short term Only tackle symptoms not the real problem Unpleasant
side effects – upset stomach, drowsiness, blurred vision, irregular heart beat Dependency – limit
of 4 weeks.
Long-term stress is often accompanied by
psychological and physical changes.
Drug therapy is sometimes used to reduce these
effects of stress.
Outline drug therapy as a method of stress
management. 4 marks
• The two main groups of drugs used to manage
stress are Benzodiazepines and Beta-blockers. BZs
act on the brain by increasing the action of GABA.
This neurotransmitter reduces the activity of
other neurotransmitters in the brain.
• Beta-blockers act directly on the cardiovascular
system. They reduce any increase in heart rate
and blood pressure that may arise as a result of
• Examiners should be aware of a breadth/depth
trade off: one type in detail or both in less detail.