Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Stress and the Familiarity of Support Providers

Social support is only helpful from people you know

Researchers at Bowling Green State University recently published a pair of studies that clarify one of the circumstances in which social support is helpful for people in stressful situations. Their studies emphasize the importance of the people providing social support. The people providing social support in their studies were not people who knew the participants. They were complete strangers. 

Unlike other research, in which social support was provided by people who the participants knew or had a reasonable opportunity to get acquainted with, the presence of the other person either did not provide any stress relief.

Participants in the studies were asked to prepare and deliver a speech that they were told would be videotaped and evaluated by experts. Depending on the condition, another person was also in the room with the participants to evaluate. In some conditions, the other person also provided social support. Across all the conditions in both studies, the presence of the other person did not change the participants' bodily stress reactions (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate) or self-reported level of stress.

Evidently, for social support to be a source of stress relief, the people providing the support need to be people who are familiar to the person experiencing stress. In these studies, if the support from the other person actually did provide any benefit, it was probably covered up by the additional stress prompted by the other person's role as an evaluator.

Source: Anthony, J. L., & O'Brien, W. H. (1999). An evaluation of the impact of social support manipulations on cardiovascular reactivity to laboratory stressors. Behavioral Medicine, 25, 78-87.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


Stressful psychological, social, and physiological consequences for African Americans

A team of researchers from Wayne State University, the National Institutes of Health, Morehouse College, and the University of Michigan recently developed a model of how perceived racism, the subjective experience of prejudice or discrimination, leads to various psychological, social, and physiological stress responses among African Americans. Although the model is unique in that it deals specifically with perceived racism of African Americans, it is based on a well-known model of stress and coping proposed by Lazarus and Folkman in 1984.

According to the model, actions by others can be perceived as racist, which can lead to psychological and physiological stress responses, and over time, to physical and mental health problems if attempts at coping are unsuccessful. Additionally, the model shows that a variety of factors can influence the extent to which actions by others are perceived as racist, such as skin tone, socioeconomic status (e.g., education, income), self-esteem, sense of control, and expression or suppression of anger.

The researches comment that the model could probably be expanded to represent other ethnic groups.

Source: Clark, R., Anderson, N. B., Clark, V. R., Williams, D R. (1999). Racism as a stressor for African Americans: A biopsychosocial model. American Psychologist, 54, 805-816.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Smoking Causes Stress

People who smoke cigarettes often report that it helps them relax and alleviate their feelings of stress. Andy Parrott, a psychologist at the University of East London, has recently argued that, although smokers probably do not realize it, cigarette smoking actually causes stress.

A review of the research on cigarette smoking and stress is consistent with this assertion. Smokers on average have higher levels of stress than do nonsmokers. As adolescent smokers develop regular patterns of smoking, they experience more and more stress. When people quit smoking, the experience reduced levels of stress.

Parrott recently proposed a model that is based on the idea of nicotine dependency as a cause of stress. According to the model, most smokers are psychologically and physiologically dependent on nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco, and become tense and irritable when they do not have enough nicotine in their system. Consequently, cigarettes may seem like stress relievers because they provide the nicotine that smokers need to feel normal.

Source: Parrott, A. C. (1999). Does cigarette smoking cause stress? American Psychologist, 54, 817-820.