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Measuring Stress

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Measuring Stress

A person suffers from stress when they believe their well-being is under threat. This causes psychological and biological strain. Stress measurement scales consist of methods used by health researchers and psychologists to detect illnesses in humans related to or caused by stress. Measuring stress is easier when psychologists use the most relevant scales. However, when considering external variables such as high blood pressure, it becomes trickier. Some of the scales used in measuring stress response are

  • Self-report scales (SRRS and Hassle and uplift scale).

  • Skin conductance response scale (SCR).

Measuring stress with self-report scales: SRRS

Holmes and Rahe (1967) developed the social readjustment rating scale (SRRS) to measure the link between symptoms of stress and life events out of 100. They used the records of 5000 patients to derive 43 life events that were a cause of stress symptoms. Around 400 patients were requested to rate the life events in terms of how much readjustment was required to adjust to a life event. For example, the death of a spouse = 100, marriage = 50, and minor law violations = 11.The psychologists added and averaged these ratings along with other individual life event scores to create the Life change unit (LCU) for each event. If the patient scored more on an LCU, they had higher chances of becoming ill due to their stress.

Self-report scale: Hassles and uplift scale

Kanner et al. (1981) defined hassles (daily, irritating, and distressing demands) and uplifts by comparing hassles with life events from the SRRS (Holmes and Rahe, 1967). The hassle scale consisted of 117 events that spanned across work, family, and friends. It was conducted on middle-aged participants over ten months. The participants had to rate the intensity of the hassles they experienced on a three-point scale.

The uplift scale consisted of 135 positive events such as having a good night’s sleep. The participants had to rate how often they experienced these events over the ten months. The researchers found that the hassles scale had a good chance of predicting psychological well-being changes. They were better at predicting this than the life events scores.

DeLongis et al. (1982) developed the Hassles and Uplift Scale (HSUP) to measure these daily hassles and stresses that affect a person’s attitude. Unlike the scales before it, this scale helped address the smaller scale hassles that affect a person’s daily life instead of the more serious life events.

DeLongis found that hassles correlate negatively with health reports. These can have a more significant, long-term effect on stress, more so than the aforementioned serious life events.

The hassles and uplifts scale may be a better predictor of the long-term effects that stress can have.

Evaluation of self-report scales

Let's see some of the advantages and disadvantages of the self-report scales.

+ The self-report scales can provide more detail of the patient’s account in terms of the intensity of the event and its link to stress. Since stress symptoms have individual differences that are catered in both the self-report scales, it increases the validity of results.

The self-reporting scales fail to establish the cause-and-effect relationship between stress and life events as they are mainly linked with correlation studies. External variables like personality type or increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone) can affect the results.

The self-report scales depend on the subjectivity of the patients. This reduces the reliability and replicability of the results since each participant will provide scores according to their understanding of the questionnaire.

The results are prone to social desirability bias. The patients might not want to openly accept in the questionnaire that they are stressed and might need help.

Measuring stress with physiological tools

Thanks to the advancement in scientific research, there are now several physiological ways to measure stress levels. Here are some examples of stress measurement instruments and tools:

  • Blood pressure monitor: it measures and displays systolic and diastolic blood pressure. When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones that affect the activity of your heart and blood vessels. Systolic reading measures the blood pressure in arteries when the heart is beating and diastolic reading measures the blood pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. This measure can indicate high-stress levels.

  • Blood and urine tests: these tests measure the level of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that prioritises certain functions, for instance, if you’re having a fight or flight response. Increased levels of cortisol in the body mean high levels of stress.

  • Skin conductance response scale: we will look at this scale in further detail below.

Physiological tools: SCR

When using SCR to measure stress levels, scientists attach electrodes to the participant’s fingertips and they measure the skin’s resistance to electricity. High levels of SCR imply arousal of the autonomous nervous system which can be related to stress. When a person is stressed they are also likely to sweat more. Sweaty or damp skin is a better conductor of electricity and thus reduces the skin’s resistance to it. This can be determined by measuring the SCR when a person is relaxed and compared with the SCR levels of when the same person is seemingly under stress.

Evaluation of skin conductance response

Let's see some of the advantages and disadvantages of the skin conductance response scale.

+ It is a cheap and scientific method to measure stress levels. It has high reliability as it can be replicated to produce similar results.

SCR doesn't differentiate between different states of emotions. SCR can measure the intensity of the skin’s response to electricity. However, it cannot objectively differentiate if the response is due to just stress, nervousness, or happiness. For such details, researchers have to depend on self-report questionnaires.

External variables can influence the readings of the SCR. For example, high alcohol consumption can cause more sweating as well as weather humidity. These can become misleading factors affecting the results of stress measurement.

The participant’s internal variables can also mislead the reading. For example, their personality type (rigid and inflexible personality, type A, may always be anxious and stressed) or if the participant has been going through life-changing events for a long time.

Measuring Stress - Key takeaways

  • Stress measurement scales consist of methods used by health researchers and scientists to detect illnesses in humans related to or caused by stress.

  • We can measure stress through self-report scales (SRRS and Hassle and uplift scale) and physiological tools (blood pressure monitor, blood and urine tests, and skin conductive response.)

  • Holmes and Rahe (1967) developed the social readjustment rating scale (SRRS) to measure the link between symptoms of stress and life events.

  • Kanner et al. (1981) developed a hassle and uplift scale.

  • High levels of SCR imply arousal of the autonomous nervous system which can be related to stress.

  • External variables can influence the readings of the SCR. These include elements such as high alcohol consumption and weather humidity, which can cause more sweating.

  • SCR is a cheap and scientific method to measure stress levels. It has high reliability as it can be replicated to produce similar results.

Frequently Asked Questions about Measuring Stress

Self-report scales aren't reliable. The results might not be replicable since each participant will provide scores according to their understanding of the questionnaire. 

Holmes and Rahe (1967) developed the social readjustment rating scale (SRRS) to measure the link between symptoms of stress and life events out of 100.

SRRS is a questionnaire measuring stress related to major life events. One limitation of SRRS is that items addressed in the questionnaire were slightly difficult to understand without the help of a tutor or researcher.

Stress is measured through various tools and equipment. Self-report scales and physiological tools such as skin conductance response are considered to be a better source of measuring stress.

Skin conductance response (SCR) is a stress test where electrodes are attached to the participant’s fingertips and the skin’s resistance to electricity is measured. High levels of SCR implies arousal of the autonomous nervous system which can be related to stress.

Final Measuring Stress Quiz

Question

What are stress measurement scales?

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Answer

Stress measurement scales consist of methods that are progressively used by health researchers and scientists to detect illnesses in humans related to or caused by stress.

Show question

Question

Which scales can we use to measure stress?

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Answer

  • Self-report scales
  • Physiological tools

Show question

Question

Who developed the self-report SRRS scale?


Show answer

Answer

Homes and Rahe (1967)

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Question

How many participants scored on the SRRS scale?


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Answer

Around 400 patients were requested to rate the life events in terms of how much readjustment is required to adjust to a life event.

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Question

List the physiological tools used to measure stress.


Show answer

Answer

  • Blood and urine test

  • Blood pressure monitor

  • Skin conductance response

Show question

Question

How do blood and urine tests help in measuring stress?


Show answer

Answer

Blood and urine tests measure the level of cortisol in the body, as this is a  stress hormone. Increased levels of cortisol in the body mean high levels of stress.

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Question

Describe the blood pressure monitor as a stress measurement instrument


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Answer

The blood pressure monitor measures and displays systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic reading measures the blood pressure in arteries when the heart is beating and diastolic reading measures the blood pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.

Show question

Question

Evaluate the self-report scales as a stress measurement instrument.


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Answer

The self-report scales can provide more detail of the patient’s account in terms of the intensity of the event and its link to stress. Since stress symptoms have individual differences that are catered in both the self-report scales, it increases the validity of results.


↣ The self-report scales are open to the subjectivity of the patients. It reduces the reliability of the results to be replicated since each participant will provide scores according to their understanding of the questionnaire.

Show question

Question

Who developed the hassles and uplift scale?

Show answer

Answer

Kanner et al. (1981)

Show question

Question

How was the hassles and uplift scale developed?


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Answer

Kanner et al. (1981) developed a hassle and uplift scale. The hassle scale consisted of 117 events that spanned over topics such as work, family, and friends. The participants had to rate the intensity of the hassles they experienced on a three-point scale. 

The uplift scale consisted of 135 positive events such as a good night's sleep. The participants had to rate how often they experienced these events over the period.

Show question

Question

What does SCR stand for?


Show answer

Answer

Skin conductance response.

Show question

Question

How does SCR measure the skin's response to electricity?


Show answer

Answer

When using SCR to measure stress levels, electrodes are attached to the participant's fingertips and the skin’s resistance to electricity is measured.

Show question

Question

Why is the equipment used in SCR considered to be a good measurement of stress?


Show answer

Answer

When a person is stressed they are likely to sweat more which is linked to high levels of stress. Sweaty or damp skin is a better conductor of electricity as it has less resistance. High levels of SCR imply arousal of the autonomous nervous system which can be related to stress.

Show question

Question

Evaluate skin conductance response as a physiological tool for measuring stress.


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Answer

– SCR cannot differentiate between different states of emotions. SCR can measure the intensity of the skin’s response to electricity. However, it cannot objectively differentiate if the response is due to just stress, nervousness, or happiness.

– The readings of the SCR can be influenced by external variables such as high alcohol consumption which can cause sweating.

Show question

Question

What does LCU stand for?


Show answer

Answer

Life change unit (LCU)

Show question

Question

What is stress?

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Answer

Stress is when change causes a physiological, emotional, and/or psychological strain. 

Show question

Question

Who created the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)?

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Answer

Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe.

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Question

When was the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) created?

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Answer

In 1967.

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Question

How many stressful live events are there in the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)?

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Answer

43.

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Question

What are the stressful life events known as in the SRRS?

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Answer

Life-changing units (LCUs).

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Question

The higher your LCU score, the more stressed you are and the higher your chances of developing a stress-related illness. True or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

How many months does a person factor in when calculating their score based on how many stressful events have occurred?

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Answer

12 months. The values associated with the life events are summed to produce a total value. If an event has occurred more than once in the past 12 months, the value is multiplied by the number of events that occurred.

Show question

Question

Give an example of an LCU used in the SRRS.

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Answer

Any of the following:


  • Death of a spouse.
  • Divorce.
  • Retirement. 
  • Change in a financial situation.
  • The trouble with boss.

Show question

Question

What event has the highest LCU score?

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Answer

Death of a spouse – 100.

Show question

Question

What does a score of 150 or less mean in the SRRS?

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Answer

This indicates a low level of life stress. The likelihood of developing a stress-related illness is considered low. An estimated 30% chance of becoming ill in the near future.

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Question

What does a score of 150 to 299 mean in the SRRS?

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Answer

An estimated 50% chance of becoming ill in the future.

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Question

What does a score of 300 or more mean in the SRRS?

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Answer

80% chance of becoming ill in the near future.

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Question

Is the SRRS valid?

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Answer

Yes. Research related to the scale has consistently demonstrated an association between stressful life events from the scale and physically related illness. This indicates the scale is accurate in measuring stress and determining stress-related illnesses.

Show question

Question

Is the SRRS reliable? 

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Answer

Yes. The study was praised for its reliability because the original study had a large sample of 5,000 medical patients. Since the study found a positive relationship between LCU scores and stress-related illness in a large sample, this speaks to the reliability of the SRRS scale.

Show question

Question

Does the scale have issues with ambiguity?

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Answer

Yes, some items in the scale may be considered ambiguous and not representative of actual stress levels.

For example, ‘trouble with the boss’ does not indicate the level of trouble a person may be having with their boss.

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Question

What is the definition of self-report scales?

Show answer

Answer

Self-reports are a source of direct information from the participants about their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours, (as oppose to observations).  

Show question

Question

What does SRRS stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Social Readjustment Rating Scale 

Show question

Question

Who developed the SRRS scale?

Show answer

Answer

 Holmes and Rahe (1967) 

Show question

Question

What does HSUP stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Hassles and Uplifts scale

Show question

Question

Who developed HSUP?

Show answer

Answer

Kanner et al. (1981)

Show question

Question

How was the SRRS first developed?

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Answer

Holmes and Rahe (1967) worked in hospitals and noticed that patients who had problems with stress and health (e.g. heart disease) would often have experienced certain life events. 
They analysed the data and drew the conclusion that the bigger the life change, the grater the stress and more serious the illness it caused.  

Show question

Question

What does LCU stand for and what is it?

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Answer

LCU stands for Life changing units and they are the score for each live event in terms of how long it would take to readjust after it.

Show question

Question

What were findings of the SRRS scale's correlation with stress and illness?

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Answer

Holmes and Rahe found that there is a positive correlation between LCU score and illness, i.e. the higher the LCU score, the greater the chance of getting ill. They stated that a higher LCU score causes higher stress levels, which lead to illnesses.

Show question

Question

How many hassles and how many uplifts were in the HSUP scale?

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Answer

117 hassles and 135 uplifts.

Show question

Question

What was the purpose of developing the HSUP?

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Answer

HSUP scale was developed by Kanner et al. (1981) who looked at how daily hassles and uplifts affected stress levels and stress induced illnesses.

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Question

What were the findings about the HSUP?

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Answer

Found that there was a positive correlation between daily hassles and stress related illnesses. They also found that the hassles scale was a better predictor of psychological well-being than the life events scale. 

Show question

Question

How was validity a strength for self-report scales measuring stress?

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Answer

Because self-report scales can gain the participants' thoughts and feelings, and therefore are an accurate and valid measure of stress. 

Show question

Question

How was credibility a strength for self-report scales measuring stress? 

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Answer

Psychologists widely use the SRRS and HSUP scales, or its adaptations, in research. 

Show question

Question

In which 2 ways was validity a limitation for self-report scales measuring stress?  

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Answer

The scales are not as valid as they seem because different people interpret the life events at different extremes, which biases the results and decreases validity (Dohrenwend et al. 1990). Also, the SRRS doesn't account for individual differences. 

Show question

Question

Explain the contamination effect as a limitation for self-report scales measuring stress.

Show answer

Answer

Self-report scales include items that are effects of stress rather than predictors of it. 

Show question

Question

Why was reliability a limitation/criticism of the HSUP scale?

Show answer

Answer

HSUP is very long with 250 items so people won't be as thoughtful and focused while doing it, which reduces reliability.

Show question

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