Up the Tower of Psychobabel: does lexical anarchy impede research into 'psychological stress'?

Burton, R.F. and Hinton, J.W. (2010) Up the Tower of Psychobabel: does lexical anarchy impede research into 'psychological stress'? Medical Hypotheses, 74(4), pp. 644-648. (doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.10.043)

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Abstract

The terminology relating to 'psychological stress' is so confused and ambiguous that research in this field - and application of its results - must surely be hampered. Relevant words with conflicting usages and scientific definitions include 'stress' itself, 'stressor', 'strain', 'challenge', 'demand', 'threat', 'resource', 'coping' and 'mental load'. 'Stress' and 'anxiety' are often confounded. Because of this confusion it can be hard to decide how closely one view of stress matches another and to integrate the variety of published conceptual frameworks. The word 'stress' is therefore useful only as a deliberately vague umbrella term. Nevertheless there is moderate consensus in the literature that the mental state characterizing 'stress' (which, to avoid ambiguity, we call 'psystress') results from awareness that one is not coping with something, a perceived stressor, that relates to a need that is deemed personally important. Other definitions and models of 'stress' are compared. 'Stress' is often applied to situations that actually cause pleasurable excitement. We propose the unambiguous term 'euchallenge' for such enjoyable demands, because 'eustress' and 'challenge' also have other meanings. Supposedly adverse stress responses are sometimes studied using tasks or situations, which are assumed to be stressors, but which for some individuals might be euchallenges or in others produce apathy through perceived irrelevance to personal needs. Much research utilizes self-report stress questionnaires and many of these are composed with poor regard to theory. Some, for example, mix psystress causation with a variety of response factors or pay inadequate attention to 'chronic' and 'acute' time scales. Testees may even be required to interpret words on which psychologists themselves disagree - notably 'stress' itself. It is important, therefore, to evaluate carefully every test in the context of its purpose, but, most importantly for scientific advance, to relate it to a comprehensive testable theoretical model.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Burton, Dr Richard
Authors: Burton, R.F., and Hinton, J.W.
Subjects:R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences
Journal Name:Medical Hypotheses
ISSN:0306-9877
ISSN (Online):1532-2777
Published Online:24 November 2009

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