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Effect of stress on the Brain

in understanding its chemical formation in the brain has really only happened in the la

This investigation was carried out with the collaboration of sixty college students aged from 19 to 20-years-old from my college. The main aim was to investigate which stimulus-audio and visual was a better method on daily-learning. This large group was broken down into two smaller groups comprising of thirty subjects for the testing on each stimulus. First group was given an article to read while the second group was allowed to listen to a short sound clip without any disturbance. Once they were done with the article and the recording clip, a distraction test- Sudoku (Easy) was given. Both groups were then required to answer fifteen short questions. Z-test was used as the statistical model and led to the rejection of the null hypothesis which claimed that there will be no significant difference between the two groups. To round it up, the mean score of visual memory test obtained was 10.2, significantly higher than auditory memory test which obtained 6.1; hence proving that visual stimulus was better than audio stimulus in terms of keeping short-term memory.

NULL HYPOTHESIS:

There will be no significant difference between the results of auditory and visual stimulus on the test and both should share the same mean score in the experiment.

EXPERIMENTAL HYPOTHESIS:

Visual stimulus will have higher significance result in the memory test compared to auditory stimulus.

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RESEARCH AND RATIONALE:

Figure 1: Different parts in brain. (Canadian Institute of Health Research)

Our brain is the centre of information processing where instructions can be relayed in the form of electrical impulse to bring a coordinated response to the whole organism. Our sensory organ (e.g. ear or eye) detects a stimulus (e.g. music or notes) via its receptors (either visual or auditory); the new information will then be processed into a short-term memory. Short -term memory (STM) will only last for a short period like one minute normally. (8) Certain regions such as the pre-frontal lobe (Figure 1) in our brain are activated when such stimulus is being detected.

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Figure 2: Synapses between NMDA and AMPA

(Source: www.google.com.my/search?q=LTP)

Hippocampus holds new information such as short notes (reading) and song’s rhythm temporarily and may integrate these two stimuli into various aspects of an experience. Undergoing consolidation of memory, memory can be then stored longer in our brain resulting in long-term memory. The underlying mechanism requires both AMPA (α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid) receptors and NMDA (N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid) receptors (Figure 2) are two types of vital receptors present on plasma membrane of post-synaptic neurone. When pre-synaptic neuron is stimulated, neurotransmitter glutamate is released. It will then bind with AMPA receptors on post-

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synaptic neuron and at the same time NMDA receptor will be blocked by magnesium ion.

Subsequently, ion channels open up, allowing sodium ions to pass into post-synaptic neuron, thus depolarize the membrane. If postsynaptic membrane is strongly depolarized, magnesium ion will move away from NMDA receptors, allowing glutamate to bind with it. This will lead to the opening of calcium ion channel and resulted in more AMPA receptors to be inserted into membrane. Finally, nitrogen oxide will be released due to stimulation of calcium ion diffuses into pre-synaptic neuron and release more glutamate. This phenomenon is termed as long term potentation (LTP). (8) Figure 3: Baddely;s Model (Source: http://ahsmail.uwaterloo.ca/kin356/cexec/cexec.htm)

Working memory is the further extension from short-term memory, where sophisticated task such as thinking, reasoning and learning information are being held firmly in our mind. According to Baddeley’s model of working memory, the Homo sapiens have a central executive that stores and maintains new information with the aid of 3 slaves

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mechanisms: Phonological loop, visual spatial sketchpad (VSSP) and episodic buffer. (Figure 3) The phonological loop stores audio information, while the VSSP stores visual and spatial information and the episodic buffer act as integrator of phonological, visual and other information unrelated to slave systems. (2)

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Figure 4: Image of fMRI of brain when visual stimulus is detected. (Canadian Institute of Health Research)

Figure 4 shows fMRI image when a visual stimulus is detected. The visual stimuli were seen and undergoes rehearse with a solid image build-up in our brain whereas for auditory stimuli, mental images are ‘created’ instead of ‘received’. (1) This suggests that our brain has to think harder in order to get a ‘picture’ for audio stimulus instead of receiving a complete and precise image from visual stimulus. According to an experiment conducted by Elizabeth Hilton, the mean score for visual group is higher than auditory group by 11%. Thus, she concluded that visual condition did relatively better than the auditory condition. “As hypothesized, visual short-term memory will have a longer and more accurate duration than auditory short-term memory.” (1)

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The outcome of this experiment may have significant impact on our future learning. In college, students and lecturers often have to race against time to complete the entire syllabus in order to meet the demands of examination. Thus, facilitators tend to speed up the classes by merely summarising the vital points verbally and resulted in certain students facing problems in their respective courses. The outcome of this study can be used as a yardstick, for lecturers to refine their teaching method in order to present key ideas for each topic efficiently. In addition, they can prepare their slides using PowerPoint, as it will yield a better understanding between students and the subject taught. Besides, notes in the form of hard copies can be distributed as this is far better than merely orally presentation.

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PLANNING:

Trial A: To determine the length of an article.

First and foremost, two short scientific articles have been collected with varies number of words. Ten students were given a passage titled-‘Study Explores Which Carnivores Are Most Likely To Kill Other Carnivores’-Science Daily, an article of 227 words and were then required to read through the article once and answer ten short questions related to the article. The trial was then repeated with the same group with another scientific article entitled-‘Beyond Fossil Fuels’ by Harrison Dillon which has approximately 1200 words.

No. of words (article)

Students’ Achievement

Replicate 1

Replicate 2

Median Score

Mean Score

Median Score

Mean Score

227

10.0

9.8

10.0

9.7

1200

5.5

5.6

5.5

5.5

Table 1: Results on the achievement of students.

Results collected from trial A depicted that students actually performed better in the first article, which average scoring at near full-mark as compared to the second article, where majority only managed to score merely more than half of the score. Therefore, an article around 400-600 words was chosen so that the results obtained will be more reliable as for means of comparing between these two stimulus.

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Trial B: Selection on the number of questions and type of answers (multiple choice and written type).

The aim for trial B was to set the most suitable number of questions for subjects to answer. Eight participants were divided into 4 groups and were required to read an article entitled-Agriculture by Science Daily (410 words), and were tasked to finish all the questions given.

Number of Questions

Types of answer

Mean scores

Percentage (%)

10

Multiple choices

10.0

100.0

Written

9.0

90.0

20

Multiple choices

17.0

85.0

Written

14.0

70.0

Table 2: Results from Trial B.

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Participants from the third and fourth group claimed that the number of questions was too much while students from first and second group expressed satisfaction for both number of questions and types of answer. Subjects who participated in the objective session clarified that they did randomly circled answers for questions that they didn’t know how to answer. Hence, the number of questions was set to 15; and answers presented should be in written form to avoid random luck and aimed to test purely on their memory capability.

Trial C: Duration of distraction task.

A third trial was conducted to determine the length of distraction task. The main purpose of distraction task was to prevent the information from being rehearsed in their mind. Ten random pupils were divided into five groups and were tasked to finish a ‘6×6 Sudoku’ after finishing an article entitled Agriculture by Science Daily (410 words) and were required to finish the ‘Sudoku’ as much as they can within duration of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 minutes. After that, they were required to answer a set of 15 questions regarding the article they had just read.

Time

Median score

Mean score

1 minute

14.0

13.7

2 minutes

13.0

13.0

3 minutes

10.0

10.3

4 minutes

8.0

7.7

5 minutes

5.0

5,3

Table 3: Results for duration of distraction task on median and mean scores.

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As shown in table 3, the longer the time taken for a distraction test, the lower the mean score will be. Hence, 2.5minutes was chosen as a compromised time in order to finish the Sudoku and prevent the memory from decaying further with time.

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Trial D: Time required finishing answering all the questions.

A fourth trial was conducted to determine a suitable time limit for students to finish their questions. Six students were divided into three groups and each groups were required to read an article entitled- Agriculture by Science Daily (410 words), and complete a 6X6 Sudoku in maximum 2.5 minutes or less, and were required to finish all the fifteen questions within 2 minute, 4 minutes and 6 minutes.

Time (minutes)

Median score

Mean score

2

8.0

8.0

4

11.0

11.0

6

14.0

14.0

Table 4: Results on the scores obtained in different times.

According to the result obtained, the more time allocated for the trial, the better a subject performed. Feedbacks collected from the first two groups of students were that the time allocated was brief and needed to be increased in order for them to complete all the questions, while subjects from the third group(6 minutes) expressed satisfaction on the time given, but felt slight stress upon completing the questions. Thus, no time limit is set so that students could answer the questions comfortably without feeling any pressure.

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Trials conducted above were merely tested on visual input and these factors were assumed to have the same effect on auditory input.

The manipulated variable in this experiment was the type of stimulus tested. The responding variable was the mean score obtained from these two tests. The constant variables were the time of day for this test to be conducted, age of subjects, level of education, condition of surrounding, and proportion of genders in each group. All the tests were conducted in the evening by students from UiTM INTEC. With each participants set at the age of 20 years old, and currently undertaking the same GCE-A level this year. Proportion of gender for each group was set as 15 males and 15 females.

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PROCEDURE:

A number of sixty participants were divided into equal number of males and females, with each member numbered with odd and even digits.

Odd digits group members were tasked to test on visual stimuli in conference room A, while even digits group members were tasked to test on auditory stimuli in conference room B.

Both group members were each given a confidentiality form, a foolscap paper as answer sheet, and a closed-paper with 15 questions. An article entitled- Wild Birds May Play a Role in the Spread of Bird Flu, by Science Daily (Appendix 1) was distributed only in group A and can only be opened once they are told to do so. On the other hand, members from group B were required to listen to a sound clip regarding to the same article played by a computer connected to speakers in the room. Before the recording was played, the volume of speakers was adjusted to ensure a clear sound throughout the room.

Group A was asked to read through the article once, and was tasked to complete the Sudoku distraction test (Appendix 3) within 2.5 minutes or less, and then finish all the 15 questions (Appendix 2). As for group B, the recording was played only once in the room. Subjects were required to listen carefully, and were tasked to finish the same Sudoku distraction test (Appendix 3) in 2.5 minutes or less and then finish all the questions related subsequently.

The answer sheets were then collected and the data were recorded in tables. Z-test was used as statistical method to analyse the mean score for both groups.

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RISK ASSESSMENT:

This experiment was conducted in the safest manner and deemed low-ranked in terms of risk, given zero complaint in students’ feedbacks. For visual experiment, the room was well lit and the brightness of light was altered according to students’ demand. Subjects with eye defects such as myopia (short-sightedness) were required to wear their optical aid such as glasses and contact lenses. On the other group, the volume of speakers was adjusted to a reasonable and clear volume to avoid impairment on hearing before the experiment begun.

Everyone was briefed beforehand with the utmost aim of the experiment that was to determine which stimulus is better for daily learning purposes only, and neither to undermine nor challenge one’s intellectual. They were also given assurance on their real identity, which will be kept anonymous.

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Participants who felt unwell or unhealthy will be exempted and those who opted to withdraw themselves from this experiment were replaced. This was to ensure every student is willing to assist in their own accord and assist the experiment whole-heartedly.

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OBSERRVING AND RECORDING:

Score(s) Obtained

Number of subject(s)

Visual Stimulus, X1

Auditory Stimulus, X2

1

0

0

2

0

1

3

1

1

4

0

2

5

0

5

6

0

8

7

0

10

8

4

2

9

5

0

10

6

0

11

9

1

12

2

0

13

1

0

14

1

0

15

1

0

Total (participants),

30

30

Table 5: Results collected from 60 participants for both memory tests.

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Quartiles

Visual Stimulus

Auditory Stimulus

Lower, Q1

Ã-30 = 7.5

8th place

= 9

Ã-30 =7.5

8th place

= 5

Median, Q2

Ã-30 = 15

= 15th and 16th place

= (10+10)

= 10.0

Ã-30 = 15

= 15th and 16th place

= (6+6)

= 6

Upper, Q3

Ã-30 = 22.5

23rd place

= 11

Ã-30 = 22.5

23rd place

= 7

Table 6: Quartiles calculated for both stimuli.

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Graph 1A: Box plot of the scores for visual stimulus.

Graph 1B: Box plot of the scores for auditory stimulus.

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INTERPRETATION:

From the box plot, 50% of the participants managed to score 10.0 marks, which was significantly higher than auditory stimulus which obtained a median score of 6.0. These showed that majority of students scored higher if visual was used as an input. However, both shared the same inter-quartile range (Upper quartile – Lower quartile) of 2. Both data were assumed to be normally distributed as Q3Q2 = Q2 Q1.

Z-test was applied as statistical method as the number of samples (participants) for each stimulus was more or equal than 30, n Sixty college students were randomly selected from a group of 200 pupils and all of them have the same chance to be selected to assist in this experiment. One the other hand, t-test was not applied as the statistical method as the number of samples in this experiment is more than 30. (4)

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Types of Stimulus

Visual, X1

Auditory, X2

Number of Subjects,Æ’

30

30

Mean,

=

=

=10.2 (1 d.p.)

=

=

=6.1 (1 d.p.)

Æ’ X2

= 3237

= 1197

Standard Deviation, σ

=

=1.96468827

=

=1.640121947

Table 7: Statistical data tabulated from both types of tests.

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Hypothesis Test for Two Mean Scores

H0: 𝜇1 = 𝜇2 (The mean scores for both stimuli tests are equivalent.)

H1: 𝜇1 > 𝜇2 (The mean score of visual memory test is higher than auditory memory test.)

Significant level: 5%

Provided,

Null Hypothesis= 𝜇1 = 𝜇2

σ1 = 1.96468827

σ2 = 1.640121947

n1 = 30

n2 = 30

Then,

1 2 ~N

Using Central Limit Theorem, the test statistic will be:

Z=

With H0, 𝜇1 = 𝜇2 (mean score for visual stimulus = mean score of auditory stimulus)

Hence,

Z=

=

= 8.774529412

8.7745 (4 d.p.) Cumulative word count: 2724

From the Table of Percentage Points of The Normal Distribution, 0.05 or 5% probability gives a z-value of 1.6449. The value obtained from the one tail-test above is significant. Null Hypothesis was thus, rejected with sufficient evidence to conclude that visual memory has better effect on this experiment than auditory memory.

The result obtained from Z-test clearly favoured visual memory more than auditory memory. At 5% of significant level, z (8.7745) was higher than critical value of 1.6449, thus rejecting the null hypothesis. At least 95% chance that the results of both groups were significantly different; with visual will have a greater impact than auditory. This experiment was concordant with the one Elizabeth Hilton conducted, where the mean score for visual memory is 13% higher than auditory memory. (1)

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Graph 2: Bar chart of memory scores obtained by participants in both groups.

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Participants for visual memory quiz clearly outperformed participants from auditory group. Majority of them scored between 8 to 15 marks for visual quiz, while most of the participants scored between 2 to 8 marks for the auditory group. Twenty students managed to score between 10 to 15 marks in visual group; while twenty-three students only managed to obtain score between 5 to 7 marks. The mode score for visual group was 11 marks, while auditory group was 7 marks, four marks of difference. Incredibly, a student managed to score full marks in the visual group, due to the photo genetic memory as assumed. From the results obtained, it was clearly shown that pupils do score much more when they were given visual input, as the information can be held and rehearsed longer in the brain.

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Although subjects in visual group tend to score higher marks than auditory group, there was one student who

st thirty years or so. It is an important field of scientific research since it spans from distress in normal everyday life to more extreme manifestations of stress in mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. Stress touches most every child and adult’s life. Traumatic stress rises in the events and contexts of war, abuse, assault, rape, childhood loss, or car accidents, to name just a few. Often such events lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a pervasive form of chronic illness. Although these events occur with surprising frequency, people who do not experience trauma directly are still touched as much by just the thought of them. For example, people are exposed to such events through the news. This tends to heighten their sense of danger or threat and to increase a sense of personal insecurity and worry. Other factors such as poverty, illness, work pressure, and difficult life conditions also create stressors for the human brain and body. These are sometimes felt as chronic and persistent. This paper will use contemporary sources of research and scientific models to discuss the neuropsychological basis for stress and the effects of the brain’s stress response on a person’s thoughts and emotions. While its focus will be on chronic stress, PTSD is considered as well since it is an important original source for the development of chronic stress.

The widespread use of the term “stress” in psychology gained currency with Hans Selye’s book The Stress of Life (1956). In it he formulated a biologically-based understanding of stress. He focused on the body’s general adaptation to a challenging stimulus through a syndrome of bodily changes. Here one sees the initial start of thinking about stressors that both directly harm the person (physically) and put the body out of harmony because of any perceived psychological fear of harm. Later research shifted the emphasis away from pure biological reflex toward how environmental stimuli are perceived cognitively and reacted to emotionally. In other words, stressfulness came to be viewed not just as the brain’s static chemical or metabolic response to an event, but as a dynamic and alterable part of the interaction between a person’s mental functioning, past social experience, and the environmental conditions of the challenging stimulus itself. This led to the contemporary research models that investigate not just the effects of stress but the environments that cause stress.

The physical effects of stress on the brain are quite evident. The brain’s stress response originates in the hypothalamus, which is located at the top part of the brain stem and is responsible for a number of regulatory functions linked, for example, with body temperature and the dispersal of hormones into the blood stream. The hypothalamus has a dynamic relationship with the pituitary gland that controls the human endocrine system and the adrenal glands which secrete adrenaline. Both of these are extremely important in maintaining the body’s hormonal balance and preventing bodily deterioration or disease. They are vital to the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism of self-preservation. Stress reactions arise from the hypothalamus as natural physiological responses to stressful physical, psychological, or social situations. The physical stressors such as those that enact a fight-or-flight mechanism are temporary and involve sudden increases in glucose and adrenalin for energy (Wallenstein, 2003, p. 45).

It has been determined, however, that more long lasting physical effects occur with psychological stress as a result of prolonged or excessive exposure to stress hormones. The release of hormones like cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline, if excessive due to excessive lengths of stressful situations, can have negative consequences on bodily organs. Chronic stress can increase the stomach’s proneness to ulcers, increase risk of heart disease, diabetes and asthma, impair the immune system, and accelerate artherosclerosis, among other harmful physical effects that have been studied and documented (Bremner, 2002, pp. 6-9). Without question, research continues to show that stress has effects strongly correlated with a decline in physical health and with a heightened susceptibility to negative symptoms.

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Chronic or traumatic psychological stress can also cause physiological changes in the body as an adaptation mechanism. For example, researchers at Emory University discovered that childhood abuse created lasting alterations in physiological response to subsequent stress (Heim et al., 2000). This means that in traumatized people, stress reactions are heightened or exaggerated afterwards. Over time, these changes can create an exaggerated response to other stressors, can decrease the functioning of the immune system, and may lead to a higher proneness toward mood and anxiety disorders (Wallenstein, 2003, p. 55). In other words, stress can create a life-long physiological change in and impairment of brain and body functioning. Such recent findings suggest that victims of stress may in fact suffer from a neurological disorder rather than just from a character flaw, mental weakness, or pitiable bad luck.

Chronic stress can impact individual perception and thinking in significant ways. Research in cognitive neuropsychology has been particularly helpful in identifying some of these patterns. Psychiatrists at the Dartmouth Medical School have identified certain common styles of thinking present in those who as a result of traumatic stress suffer from chronic life stress (Mueser, Rosenberg, and Rosenberg, 2009, pp. 99-120). These thought patterns, or schemas, shape the individual’s perception of the world and have a large degree of negative control over their emotions. The problem with them is that they are inaccurate and destructive thoughts and beliefs. They exacerbate distress rather than alleviate it. For example, such stress-influenced minds have a tendency to catastrophize (worst case scenario), overgeneralize the negative by jumping to conclusions, and think in terms of extremes and absolutes (“the world is all bad” or “I’m a failure since I’m not perfect”). They also overestimate the risk of bad things happening, attribute truth to their feelings (“I feel sad, so my life must be hopeless”), inaccurately blame themselves when they are not responsible for something, and ignore the positive by focusing strictly on the negative. The person suffering from this kind of stress, therefore, is in the grip of false perceptions and their resulting negative emotions. Their ability to manage life experience in a non-distressful way is impaired unless they are able to find ways to change their beliefs and interpretations of the world and of themselves.

Stress has been linked to more serious impairments such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, somatic disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. Bremner (2002) has argued based on research that these disorders may be considered in relationship to a “common stress-induced neurological deficit” (p. 34). That is to say, stress actually changes the way the brain operates. In even more extreme cases, studies have shown clear connections between stress and the mental disorder of schizophrenia. While most researchers understand that there are genetic predispositions in those who develop schizophrenia, they generally realize that environmental factors combine with this inherited vulnerability to produce the disorder. In other words, stress contributes to the formation and perpetuation of schizophrenia. It effects the person’s cognitive appraisal of the environment, which when fused with biological predispositions give rise to serious mental distress and distortions.

R. Lewine, professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville, gives a good review of the kinds of stress that research has clearly connected with the development of schizophrenic thought patterns (Lewine, 2005). Such stressors include childhood trauma (e.g., parental loss) or confusing family relations involving hyper-criticism, emotional over-involvement, and hostility. Further, the manifestation of schizophrenia itself is a source of stress owing to the external and uncontrollable nature of hallucinations and the “direct distortions in information processing, affect, and interpersonal relationships” (Lewine, 2005, p. 291). Schizophrenics tend to find social life more threatening than the average person. As a result of this, stress is increased and negatively impacts their rational capacities. Another contributing impact of stress on schizophrenic thinking is social stress and poverty, both of which contribute to demoralization, low self-esteem, alienation, and further life hardship since it creates such things as financial worry. In sum, the extreme case of schizophrenia illustrates firmly how stress can impact thinking and mental processes (even if associated with genetic predispositions) by contributing to distorted interpretations of the environment and cognitive impairment that is stress sensitive and threat-oriented.

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Memory is another important area of the mind that stress affects. Neuroscientists have shown that the areas of the brain associated with memory are vital in the stress response and are sensitive to stress. Bremner (2002) states, “One important outcome is long-term dysregulation of the brain chemical systems that we need to survive the immediate threat to our lives” (p. 107). The result of stress can cause serious fragmented memory and dissociation because it affects the hippocampus where memory is controlled. Other studies show that cortisol released during stress impairs memory, producing the spaced out feeling an individual feels when under chronic stress, while adrenaline acutely increases memory. This has been shown by administering a stressful math test to subjects with varying levels of cortisol and measuring performance (Lovallo & Thomas, 2000). In each case, cortisol effected hippocampal memory and impaired performance. When stress impacts memory, therefore, the general cognitive state of an individual declines significantly.

Chronic stress interferes with emotional patterns as well. These are obviously linked with thought patterns in a complex relationship. One of the classic studies of psychological stress was conducted on monkeys. John Mason at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the 1950s established beyond question that monkeys were more distressed, and released more stress hormones, by anticipating a stressful shock (which they were trained to avoid by pressing a lever but without knowing when the shock would come) than by receiving the shock itself (cited in McEwen, 2002, p. 48). The experiment concluded that heightened responsibility, uncertainty, and unpredictability elevate stress hormone levels as one would expect. Further research into the relation of stress and emotions has determined that circumstances of frustration, failure, and danger produce brain reactions that lead to the activation of cortisol, which is associated with negative emotions (Lovallo & Thomas, 2000, p. 352). The opposite of a stressful response is one in which a person positively believes in control, is motivated by achievable reward, and able to successfully attain a goal. There seems to be a connection, therefore, between higher levels of cortisol released during periods of lasting stress and negative affectivity. Both physiologically and psychologically, stress has a dampening effect on human emotions.

This is further indicated by one of the notable and overt emotional effects of chronic stress: an increased likelihood of depression. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry have linked this increased likelihood of depression with both genetics and the role that external stressors exert on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (Modell & Holsboer, 2005). Stress triggers the release of cortisol from the brain through the nervous system, which becomes pathological due to a dysfunctional feedback system within the HPA axis. The release of the hormone is not cut off sufficiently by proper feedback from the brain system. Symptoms of depression result, such as intense anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and helplessness, appetite loss, lack of interest or motivation, increased agitation, and emotional apathy. What is most important is that these emotional alterations are the direct result of a neural response to chronic stress. They are mimicked in studies of animal models of depression in chronically stressful situations such as neonatal maternal separation (Ladd et al., 2004). The specific type of stress is not as important as the emotional distress it triggers in the amygdala and hippocampus, key brain structures that are thought to control mood and the emotional interpretation of sense input (Wallenstein, 2003, p. 161). The regulatory mechanism does not shut down and keeps pumping out cortisol since the HPA and limbic regions are not signaling it to stop. As a result of stress, then, the emotions become imbalanced.

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A link has been suggested, in addition, between stress and social behavior according to researchers at University of California Los Angeles. In laboratory studies, Taylor and Gonzaga (2007) have developed a model that proposes how human affiliation is driven as a response to stress. It explains the social impulse as a biological response signaled through the neuropeptide oxytocin. This biological marker tells the person suffering from stress that their social network cannot meet the challenges of stress they are facing. As a result, the person feels inclined to eliminate that gap through social behavior, which in turn reduces psychological stress. The positive social contact, inspired in a situation of stress combined with overly low social resources, may help reduce stressful emotion and repair the person to neurocircuitry balance. In other words, neurocircuitry provides the brain and body with signals for seeking human interaction or bonding in times of enduring emotional stress. When social affiliation does not occur, stress becomes both chronic and harmful to the individual as a result of inhibiting the natural brain cycle that could alleviate the stress through social friendships.

In sum, the effects of chronic and traumatic stress are damaging and can be debilitating. Chronic stress has a negative impact on the body and brain, causing the brain to release higher levels of hormones such as cortisol than the body needs. These higher hormone levels harmfully affect various parts of the body, including the immune system, the stomach, the heart, and the liver. Early traumatic stress can exacerbate this problem by leading to perpetual patterns of hyperstress that eventually wear these bodily organs down. In addition to physical effects, chronic stress promotes negative and self-perpetuating cognitive patterns. These have been associated by medical researchers with brain chemistry. Distressful circumstances are often interpreted in ways that are destructive to life and intellectual health. The most extreme example of this, perhaps, is the contributing effect of stress in schizophrenia. In turn, negative schemas and beliefs affect emotions negatively. Chronic stress creates brain patterns that perpetuate, both physically and intellectually, high levels of frustration, anxiety, and discontent. Depression is a common result in those suffering chronic stress, with its concomitant apathetic and dark emotions. In such cases, what may be the natural remedy for stress-positive social affiliation-is ignored or unachieved, thus allowing the maladjustive thoughts and emotions to continue. While there is a strong neurological basis for stress reactions in humans, chronic exposure to environmental stress can have all these harmful effects. Prolonged stress is unnatural and brain chemistry seems not able to adapt well in many cases to it. Although not everything is understood about the brain’s function under stressful events, there seems to be enough scientific evidence to claim that chronic stress is undeniably detrimental to human physical and psychological well-being.



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