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Predictability and Control

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Predictability and Control
400
Chapter 10 Health, Stress, and Coping
known as cognitive appraisal. A potential stressor usually has a stronger negative impact
on people who perceive it as a threat than on people who see it as a challenge (Lazarus,
1999; Maddi & Khoshaba, 2005).
Evidence for the effects of cognitive factors on stress responses comes from both surveys
and experiments (e.g., Abelson et al., 2005). In one of the first laboratory demonstrations
of these effects, Richard Lazarus gave differing instructions to three groups of students who
were about to watch a film showing bloody industrial accidents (Lazarus et al., 1965). One
group (the “intellectualizers”) was instructed to remain mentally detached from the
gruesome scenes; a second group (the “denial” group) was instructed to think of the scenes
as unreal; and a third group (the “unprepared” group) was not told anything about the film.
As Figure 10.4 shows, the intensity of physiological arousal during the film, as measured by
sweat-gland activity, depended on how the viewers were instructed to think about the film.
The unprepared students were more upset than either of the other two groups. In a more
recent study, students who were first trained to see the threatening aspects of information
showed more emotional arousal to a stressful video than those who had been trained to see
information as nonthreatening (Wilson et al., 2006). Similarly, physical and psychological
symptoms associated with the stress of airport noise, of being diagnosed with a serious
illness, of learning about toxins in local soil, or of living with terrorism threats are more
common in people who engage in more catastrophic thinking about these problems
(Bryant & Guthrie, 2005; Lerner et al., 2003; Matthies, Hoeger, & Guski, 2000; Speckhard,
2002). Those who hold a more optimistic outlook tend to show milder stress responses and
better health outcomes (de Moor et al., 2006; Taylor et al., 2000; Taylor et al., 2003).
The influence of cognitive factors weakens somewhat as stressors become extreme.
Still, even the impact of major stressors, such as natural disasters or divorce, may be
less severe for those who think of them as challenges to be overcome. In other words,
many stressful events are not inherently stressful; their impact depends partly on how
people perceive them. An important part of this appraisal is the degree to which the
stressors are perceived to be predictable and controllable, or at least manageable.
Predictability and Control
Why is the threat of terrorism so terrorizing? For one thing, knowing that a stressor
might occur but being uncertain whether, or when, it will occur tends to increase the
stressor’s impact (Lerner et al., 2003; Sorrentino & Roney, 2000). In other words,
FIGURE
10.4
Baseline
Cognitive Influences on
Stress Responses
Second
accident
Third
accident
22
Units of sweat-gland activity
Richard Lazarus and his colleagues found
that students’ physiological stress reactions to a film showing bloody industrial
accidents were affected by the way they
thought about what they saw. Those who
had been instructed to remain detached
from the film (the “intellectualizers”) or to
think of it as unreal (the “denial” group)
were less upset—as measured by sweatgland activity—than those in an “unprepared” group. These results were among
the first to show that people’s cognitive
appraisal of stressors can affect their
responses to those stressors.
First
accident
20
Unprepared
18
16
14
Denial
12
Intellectualizers
10
Projector starts
10
20
30
40
50
60
Time in 10-second intervals
Source: Adapted from Lazarus et al. (1965).
70
80
87
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