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Psychiatry & Psychology--General/stress correlation to body symptoms?

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Hi Alan,
I am helping my daughter with a school science project.  She gave the experimental group a maze pattern on paper, and asked the people to solve the puzzle in a limited time.  Most of the tested people self reported feeling more stress immediately after finishing the test. So psychologically, the maze puzzle seemed to have done its job in changing how they felt. But when the subjects' body temperatures were measured with a simple contact thermometer touching off on their foreheads, there was virtually no difference in their before and after test body temperatures.  Which indication would be more correct?  Would you think these people were correct in their self assessment that their anxiety did increase?  Or would a contact body temperature readings be more reliable, suggesting that the people were only imagining their stress level went up?

Answer
Oh dear. "Stress" is a solid, well-established construct within physics -- you can stress a pencil until it fractures. When psychology borrows this construct, how do you define it behaviorally?

Psychologists prefer the term "arousal" (specifically, of the autonomic nervous system). It is measured by self-reports and yes, especially physiologically, but the latter is through heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and sweating in the palms, not by temp.

But let's side-step the construct issues. What is her evidence that the forehead heats under stress; that if it does, the elevation would be detectable on her contact thermometer; and that reported feelings of stress are related to physiological measures of it? I don't know what the instructions to participants were, but why would a common paper-and-pencil game in the presumed safety of a school setting induce discomfort in the participants? Maybe it was not the task but the overall situation that led to self-reports of feeling stress. And if she had a treatment that was clearly "stressful" (however defined), would it be ethical and permissible to administer it to (presumably) classmates?

I don't know her level or the grading criteria, but I'd give a high score to a failed trial if the failure was thoughtfully explained, followed by how she would propose to take the study to the next step.

Even if this wasn't very helpful, I'll be happy to help you help her.

Alan  

Psychiatry & Psychology--General

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Alan Auerbach

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Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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