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1. Outline the aims and contextThis study aimed to investigate the link between stressful life events and illnessin the following years. They wanted to investigate this…
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  • 1. Outline the aims and contextThis study aimed to investigate the link between stressful life events and illnessin the following years. They wanted to investigate this with a healthy populationas previous research had been done on TB patients retrospectively and this wasthought to be unreliable. They chose to study naval seaman because Rahe wasinvolved with the Navy already and each ship offered an ecologic unit- everyoneonboard is subject to the same environmental conditions.This work built on the previous findings of Selye (1936) who demonstrated in histheory of GAS that prolonged exposure to stress will cause physical damage tothe body as the body’s resources become exhausted. During the stress responsethe body secretes hormones and steroids that accumulate in our bodies and cancause harm e.g. cortisolIt would not be ethical to experiment in this area so information was collectedvia a questionnaire (SRE) and medical records were used to be analysed bycorrelation. Correlations show the strength and direction of a relationship butdon’t show cause and effect.Rahe completed some previous studies in this area, notably Holmes and Rahe(1967)-“The SRRS”. This was a life events scale of 43 events that wereconsidered stressful or required some stressful adjustment. Each event wasgiven a LCU (Life Change Unit) value of between 0 and 100. Ps had to add uptheir LCU for a given period of time. They found a correlation between LCU andillness. A score of 250-300 gave you a 50% chance of being ill in the followingyear; a score of 300+ gave you an 80% chance. They concluded that illness couldindeed be correlated with preceding stressful life events.In 1970 Rahe aimed to test this further by studying thousands of navalpersonnel.Describe the procedure of Rahe......Rahe wanted to carry out a prospective experiment in which he looked at howstress and life events may affect people when they are in non hospitalsituations. Rahe conducted a large study in which he assessed people’s life
  • 2. events as a measure of stress and correlated this to their illnesses over a twoyear period.Rahe used three US navy ships consisting of 2847 navel men A self reportquestionnaire was administered to the men 6 – 8 months before they joined aship for a two year deployment. Navy ships were chosen as all the men would beexperiencing similar situations and events over the two years so any impact ofstress before that could be measured.The self report questionnaire was based on the Social Readjustment RatingScale (SRRS). Included in the questionnaire was a series of major life eventssuch as death of a relative etc and these were scored in terms of stress basedon a previous study by Rahe and Holmes which had assessed the level of stresseach life event can create in life.An illness score was also set up depending on the severity of the illnesses thatsailors reported whilst at sea.Neither the sailors nor the medical staff on board the boat knew the objectiveof the study making it a double blind study and increasing its validity.The medical staff noted every illness on board the ships as part of theirprocedures so every illness was recorded accurately.The illness score and life change events score were correlated. They showed arelationship between how intense their stress events were and the illnessesthey got.Findings and conclusions of the study:There was a positive relationship between the number or intensity of lifechanges recorded by a p. over a 2 year period, & his likelihood of getting ill. Aslife change units increased so did frequency of illness.The TLCU (total life change unit) for the 6 month period immediately beforethe p’s 6-8 month duty gave a significant relationship with illness. This wasnoticed more for the married men than the young single sailors.
  • 3. Sailors that fell into the low TLCU groups, had low illness, sailors with highTLCU represented a high illness group.The results of this study support the idea of a linear relationship between p’sTLCU and illness rate. The illnesses experienced by the men were generallyminor, & often their pre-duty life changes were few and of low significance,however the findings were impressive and show the same as other prospectiveand retrospective studies.The correlation was +0.118 a small but significant correlation. But life eventscan’t be the only factor leading to illness as correlation is small.Conclusion:The results of this prospective study support the notion of a linear relationshipbetween participants TLCU and illness rate. It is important to note that theillnesses experienced by the men were generally minor in degree and their pre-deployment life changes were often few and of low significance, however thisdoes not detract from the impressive findings that are consistent with otherprospective/retrospective studiesWith reference to alternative evidence evaluateComplementary findings:Kiecolt Glaser (1984) took blood samples off medical students beforeand duringstressful medical exams. She found lower levels of natural killer cell activitywhen they were taking exams than before exams. This shows the immunesystem is reduced at times of stress which can then lead to illness.Cohen et al (1993) found a link between life events & stress; people who hadexperienced stressful life events were more likely to develop a cold whendeliberately given the virus.
  • 4. High levels of stress then reduce immune function & make a person morevulnerable to viral infection. Cohen’s study was good as life events/feelings ofstress and feelings of depression and hostility were examined.Johansson et al (1978) investigated a group of workers in a Swedish timber millcalled the Finishers. These people had very stressful jobs in the mill and theirwork rate affected everybody’s wage. The job was repetitive (also a stressor)and machine paced. Results were that these workers had raised levels of stresshormones on work days; they had a higher rate of stress related healthproblems too. This shows how job stress can lead to illness.Alternative findings:Kobasa & Maddi (1977): Kobasa would show that it is not a straightforward caseof linking life events to stress and illness e.g. the more life events you sufferthe more likelihood you will be ill.Kobasa said some people were unlikely to get stressed because they had a hardypersonality. This meant they felt they had CONTROL over life events thathappen to them, they also felt COMMITTED & involved in the world, aroundthem, what they are doing etc and also saw changing life events as aCHALLENGE rather than as a stressor.In addition, people are affected differently by life stressors than others, forexample. Frankenhauser et al (1976 ) found that men are more physiologicallyreactive than females, when male and female students did an exam, althoughthey all said they felt the same amount of stress, males reacted morephysiologically than the females, they released more of the stress hormoneadrenaline for example. This was also found by Stoney et al (1990)Stoney (1990) Found females showed a smaller rise in blood pressure th andduring stressful medical exams. She found lower levels of natural killer cellactivity when they were taking exams than before exams. This shows theimmune system is reduced at times of stress which can then lead to illness.
  • 5. Evaluate the methodology of the studyStrengths: Results are reliable and support other research that suggests thatlife event scores have a low but significant correlation with stress relatedhealth breakdown.The double blind nature of the study (neither p’s nor medical staff knew of theresearch objective) means results are not biased by demand characteristics.The study shows consistency of measurement as the SRE is a consistent reliablemeasure & recording of data was good, as all medical staff used the samestandardized recording procedures for ill health.Correlations are good for measuring the strength of relationship between thevariables – here, life changes & illness.Correlations are a good tool for exploratory research and we can then find outwhy and how life events and illness are linked e.g. use experimentalmethod/interview.Weaknesses:Sample restricted to U.S.A. Navy personnel, so ethnocentric and androcentric(male biased), this reduces the validity of the study & makes it hard togeneralise to other populations.The SRE does not allow for individual differences in reactions to stress e.g.each event is given an LCU score, but for some the event may be very stressful& for others less stressful BUT both people received the same standardisedLCU score for that event.Correlation cannot tell us cause & effect e.g. illness may not be caused by lifeevents it may be that the sailors’ personalities may bring about life events, likedivorce for example.Self-report studies (p’s give their opinions/ideas) can be unreliable, for examplethe sailors may report they had no life events which was wrong or said they hadmore life events than they did, this questions the validity of the findings.
  • 6. Other researchers have stated that daily life hassles like too many things to dohave a stronger link with stress than major life events which do not occur thatoften. There is a strong link between hassles scores and depression, anxiety &health problems.The Life Experiences Survey refined the SRRS & SRE scale as each event couldbe rated by the person as being positive or negative this allows for individualdifferences in how we see events to be taken into account. Health problemscorrelate with negative life change scores. Also there are sections of thesurvey which can be used for certain groups of people, like students, so it ismore relevant to them.
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