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7) How stress affects Health

Stress is thought to cause health issues. For example the release of Adrenaline and Cortisol restrict blood vessels and increase heart rate, and this could lead to cardiovascular problems. Also Cortisol reduces the immune system in order to help Fight or Flight, however over time this could lead to an inability to fight of infection.


Kiecolt-Glaser 1984

AIM – To test the link between acute stress and proficiency of the immune system.

PROCEDURE – Took blood tests of Medical students before and after exams to measure NK blood cell activity within the students. This would show the effectiveness of their immune systems.

FINDINGS – The number of NK cells, and therefore immune system activity, was a lot lower before the stressful exam period than after.

CONCLUSION – Acute stress can cause lower immunity to infection.

EVALUATION – The students might not be a representative sample of the whole population.

Kiecolt-Glaser 2005

AIM – To test a link between Chronic stress and the speed of healing

PROCEDURE – Blistered arms of unhappy married couples with highly hostile relationships (high chronic stress levels) and those of happy couples.

FINDINGS – The blisters on the arms of happy couples healed 60% faster than those in unhappy relationships

CONCLUSION – Chronic stress can significantly reduce the body’s ability to heal

Evaluation of Research

Other Research – a meta-analysis of 293 studies by Segerstrom and Miller found that acute stress actually helps the immune system, helping the body prepare for infection, however chronic stress is still harmful.

Difficult to establish a causal link – This is because:

1) Health is affected by many factors

2) Health tends to be slow to change, so it is hard to show that the change is due to stress

3) Showing a link between long-term stress and health is impractical, so most research is done on acute, short-term stress

Individual Differences – People respond differently to stress, as do their immune system. For example elderly people’s immune system are more affected by stress than younger people.


About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


One thought on “7) How stress affects Health

  1. Nice concise and precise analysis of the research!

    It’s interesting how research is now catching up with common sense. How does stress affect health is a common question, and one that is obvious to anyone who cares for someone under stress. The ones who seem to carry stress well but often are silently stressed may be at highest risk. And caregivers even have their own subtype of stress – caregiver stress.

    Part 2: How Does Stress Affect Health In Caregivers?

    Posted by The Knitting Dr | July 18, 2011, 2:30 pm

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