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Impact of Significant Events

Psychology (Year 12) - Culture and Values

Jessica Pratt

Stress is the process where individuals perceive and respond to stressors. Although stress may be primarily caused by negative events, positive events can also induce stress.

There are three main factors that contribute to stress:

1. predictability - events that are unpredictable may lead to more or prolonged stress.

  • Weiss (1971) shocked rats and measured the rate of stomach ulcerations, finding that a lower rate of ulceration occurred when the rats received a warning.

  • Katz & Wykes (1985) conducted a study involving positive and negative shocks. 65% of participants preferred predictable shocks and experienced less stress.

2. controllability - having limited control over events is a major cause of stress.

  • Weiss (1971) found that rats who could avoid shocks, but still received the same number of unavoidable shocks, had a lower rate of stomach ulceration.

  • Geer & Maisel (1972) showed participants photographs of car crash victims where stress was measured by electrodes, finding that the participants who were most stressed had no control over the length of

3. experience of threat or loss - the perception of threat to one’s life or chance of injury.

Individual Reactions to Stress

Studies have found that people react differently when exposed to the same situations.

Kobasa (1979) suggested that personality differences could account for different responses to stress. They studied executives and managers via a personality questionnaire that measured the experience of stressful events and illnesses over three years. Upon comparison, the high stress/low illness group saw change as a challenge and felt more in control, feeling as though they had a sense of direction; having a “hardy” personality.

Kobasa et al. (1982) completed a longitudinal, two year study following executives, finding that those identified with a “hardy” personality were less likely to become ill.


Resilience is the tendency to successfully adapt to risk or adversity. Associated traits may include having a wide comfort zone, a healthy social-support system, the capacity for making the most of small opportunities, and a deep-rooted faith for finding meaning.

Research has found that resilience can be taught by:

  • combining challenges with support.

  • participating in support programs after significant events.

  • developing a sense of community and a support network for people.

  • experience - we learn from past successes in dealing with stress.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that may develop following trauma, leading to stress.

Diagnosis requires specific standards to be met, including:

  • experienced trauma - the stressor.

  • avoidance or numbing - for example, avoiding crowds, drug and alcohol use

  • re-experiencing or intrusions - feeling like the event is reoccurring through flashbacks.

  • increased arousal - difficulty sleeping, concentrating or controlling emotions.

  • more than one month of symptoms.

  • causes functional impairment.

Post-traumatic Stress Growth (PTG)

PTG is a notion that individuals can feel positive effects following highly stressful or traumatic events.

Benefits of PTG fall into three categories:

  • feeling stronger and finding hidden abilities and strengths - changes to the self-concept.

  • priorities and philosophies concerning the presence are altered - living in the moment.

  • good relationships are strengthened - people are often enlightened by “finding who their true friends

Resilience in Communities

Research has indicated that a sense of belonging is important to the psychological wellbeing of all members of a community as it impacts how well individuals can 'bounce back'.

Pooley et. al (2006) described community competence, resilience in a community. These can identify needs and allow cooperation to achieve goals. It was found that communities with individual attachment, social networks and self-efficacy have reduced stress and increased growth.

Case Study: 9/11 Attacks

The 9/11 attacks resulted in stress and anxiety across the US and the world. Around 8-10% of NYC residents reported symptoms consistent with PTSD and depression. 40% of Americans experienced significant symptoms of stress.

Negative responses to the 9/11 Attacks include:

  • that it became an excuse for waging war.

  • spurred a wave of unfounded fear of Muslims and Arabs.

  • birthed the Patriot Act in the US - accused of taking away civil liberties.

Positive responses to the 9/11 Attacks include:

  • proved the swift and effective unification of the US people.

  • strengthened international cooperation and coordination, reducing and eliminating future threats.

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