Friday, September 01, 2006

Measures of Stress


One approach many scales have used is to develop a list of life events—major happenings that can occur in a person's life that require some degree of psychological adjustment. he scale assigns each event a value that reflects its stressfulness. The most widely used scale of life events has been the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) developed by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe (1967). To develop this scale, these researchers constructed a list of events they derived from clinical experience. Then they had hundreds of men and women of various ages and backgrounds rate the amount of adjustment each event would require, using the following instructions:

Use all of your experience in arriving at your answer. This means personal experience where it applies as well as what you have learned to be the case for others. Some persons accommodate to change more readily than others; some persons adjust with particular ease or difficulty to only certain events. Therefore, strive to give your opinion of the average degree of readjustment necessary for each event rather than the extreme. (P. 213)

The researchers used these ratings to assign values to each event and constructed the scale shown below (not all the scale is shown) -

Rank Life Event Mean Value
1 Death of a spouse 100
2 Divorce 73
3 Marital separation 65
4 Jail term 63
5 Death of a close family member 63
6 Personal injury and illness 53
7 Marriage 50
8 Fired at work 47
9 Marital reconciliation 45
10 Retirement 45
11 Change in health of family 44
12 Pregnancy 40
13 Sex difficulties 39
14 Gain of new family member 39
15 Business readjustment 39
16 Change in financial state 38
17 Death of close friend 37
18 Change to different line of work 36
19 Change in number of arguments with spouse 35
20 Mortgage over $10,000 31
21 Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
22 Change in responsibilities at work 29
33 Change in schools 20
34 Change in recreation 19
35 Change in church activities 19
36 Change in social activities 18
37 Mortgage or loan less than $10,000 17
38 Change in sleeping habit 16
39 Change in number of family get-togethers 15
40 Change in eating habits 15
41 Vacation 13
42 Christmas 12
43 Minor violations of the law 11

To measure the amount of stress people have experienced, subjects are given a survey form listing these life events and asked to check off the ones that happened to them during a given period of time, usually not more than the past 24 months. The values of the checked items are then summed to give a total stress score.

Other life events scales-

The Life Experiences Survey (LES) contains 57 items that are stated relatively precisely, for example, "major change in financial status (a lot better off or a lot worse off)" Subjects rate each event on a 7-point scale, worse off"). Subjects rate each event on a 7-point scale, ranging from extremely negative (—3) to extremely positive (+ 3). The items perceived as positive or as negative can be examined separately or combined for a total change can be examined separately or combined for a total change score (Sarason et al , 1978)

The Unpleasant Events Schedule (UES) contains 320 items and takes an hour to complete (although a shorter, 53-item form is also available). The items are divided into a number of categories, such as sexual/marital/ friendship and achievement/academic/job, and stated relalively precisely, for example, "being fired or laid off from work." The subjects rate each item on a 3-point scale twice, first for frequency and then for aversiveness. These two ratings are multiplied, and a total score is summed for the entire schedule (Lewinsohn, Mermelstein, Alexander, & MacPhillamy, 1985.)

Hassles and Uplifts

Not all of the stress we experience comes from major life events. Lesser events can also be stressful, as when we give a presentation, misplace our keys during a busy day, or have our quiet disrupted by a loud party next door. These are called daily hassles.

Richard Lazarus and his associates have con>tructed a scale to measure people's experiences with day-to-day unpleasant or potentially harmful events (Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, & Lazarus, 1981). This instrument—called the Hassles Scale—lists 117 of these events that range from minor annoyances, such as "silly practical mistakes," to major problems or difficulties, such as "not enough money for food." The subjects indicate which hassles occurred in the past month and rate each event as having been "somewhat," "moderately," or "extremely" severe. These researchers tested 100 middle-aged adults monthly over a 9-month period. The half-dozen most frequent hassles reported were:

  • Concerns about weight
  • Health of a family member
  • Rising prices of common goods
  • Home maintenance
  • Too many things to do
  • Misplacing or losing things

In the course of developing the Hassles Scale, these researchers proposed that having desirable experiences makes hassles more bearable and reduces their impact on health. So they developed another instrument, the Uplifts Scale, which lists 135 events that bring peace, satisfaction, or joy. This instrument was administered along with the Hassles Scale to the ) indicated which uplifts they experienced in the past month and whether each event had been "somewhat," "moderately," or "extremely" strong. Some of the most frequently occurring uplifts were "relating well to your spouse or lover," "completing a task," and "feeling healthy."


One consequence of the emergence of interactional models of stress (as discussed above) has been the development of checklists designed to assess the individual's predominant coping strategies. An example is the COPE questionnaire y Carver et al. (1989) which consists of 14 subscales each consisting of a number of items for which the individual tested indicates agreement or disagreement on a four-point scale.

In the COPE scale, you are asked how you respond when confronting 'vents in your life. To each item you use the following rating system:

  1. I usually don't do this at all.
  2. I usually do this a little bit.
  3. I usually do this a medium amount.
  4. I usually do this a lot.

The 14 COPE subscales with an example of a checklist item from each (the complete version contained four items per subscale) are:

  1. Active coping: I take additional action to get rid of the problem.
  2. Planning: I try to come up with a strategy about what to do.
  3. Suppression of competing activities: I put aside other activities in order rate on this.
  4. Restraint coping: I force myself to wait until the right time to do something.
  5. Seeking social support for instrumental reasons: I ask people who have had similar experiences what they did.
  6. Seeking social support for emotional reasons: I talk to someone about how I feel.
  7. Positive reinterpretation and growth: I look for something good in what is happening.
  8. Acceptance: I leam to live with it.
  9. Turning to religion: I seek God's help.
  10. Focus on and venting of emotions: I get upset and let my emotions out.
  11. Denial: I refuse to believe that it has happened.
  12. Behavioural disengagement: I give up the attempt to get what I want.
  13. Mental disengagement: I turn to work or other substitute activities to take my mind off things.
  14. Alcohol-drug disengagement: I drink alcohol, or take drugs, in order to think about it less.

Physiological Measures

Stress produces physiological arousal, which is refleeted in the functioning of many of our body sysOne way to assess arousal is to use electrical/ mechanical equipment to take measurements of blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, or galvanic skin response (GSR). Each of these indexes of arousal can be measured separately, or they can all be measured the polygraph. Miniaturised versions of can fit in a pocket, thereby allowing assessments during the person's daily life at home, at work, or in a stressful situation, such as while flying in an airplane or receiving dental treatment (Carruthers, 1983). Using one of these devices, researchers have shown that paramedics' blood pressure is higher during ambulance runs and at the hospital than during other work situations or at home (Goldstein, Jamner, & Shapiro, 1992).

Another way to measure arousal is to do biochemical analyses of blood or urine samples to assess the level of hormones that the adrenal glands secrete. Using this approach, researchers can test for two classes of hormones: corticosteroids, the most important of which is cortisol, and catecholamines, which include epinephrine and norepinephrine. The analysis is done by a chemist using special procedures and equipment. For example, a series of field studies undertaken in Sweden on commuter trains have found that negative physiological reactions increase as density (a stressor) increases. This was measured from urine samples given by commuters! (Lundenberg 1976).


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