Chapter 9: Emotion, Stress, and Health

Intro to Psychology

Stress: unpleasant state of arousal due to a stressor.

Perspectives in Studying Emotion

  • Discrete Perspective
    • There are a limited number of emotional states.
    • Basic emotional states: anger, fear, happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise.
  • Dimensional Perspective
    • Two axes: arousal (how energized) and valence (negativity to positivity)

Measuring Stress

  • Self-report
    • Perception of stress is more important than objective measurement
  • Biological measures
    • Heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension
    • Increased epinephrine or norepinephrine
    • Increased cortisol (stress hormone) from HPA axis
      • Cortisol decreases inflammation

Emotion and the Face

  • Infants display facial emotions, but they have to learn how to decode them on others.
    • Happens at 6-7 months.
  • Facial expressions can influence emotions (i.e. smiling can make you happy).

Emotion and the Brain

  • The amygdala evaluates sensory emotion and is therefore sometimes responsible for emotion.
  • The cortex can override the amygdala with more accurate information.
    • Inhibits the amygdala.
  • Mirror neurons: when you see someone do something, the same neurons fire in your brain.
    • Other people’s emotions can “rub off” on us.

Emotion and the Mind

  • Emotion depends on arousal and how you interpret that arousal.
    • Emotions are created and influenced by appraisals, how you interpret your and other people’s behavior.

Communicating Emotions

  • Display rules: how you’re allowed to display emotion in your culture.
  • Emotion work: expressing an emotion we don’t really feel because we feel like we should be.

Measuring Emotion in Studies

  • Self-report on a rating scale
  • Measuring temperature
  • Measuring skin conductance
  • Measuring muscles in the face

Gender and Emotion

  • Men and women feel the same emotions, but women express negative emotions more than men in public (except for anger, which men express more, especially towards other men).

How do we regulate emotions?

  • Situation selection
  • Situation modification
  • Attentional deployment (e.g. distraction)
  • Cognitive change (e.g. reappraisal)
  • Response modulation (e.g. suppression)

Phases of Stress

  1. alarm phase: body mobilizes to meet a threat (“fight or flight”).
  2. resistance phase: body attempts to resist a stressor that cannot be avoided.
  3. exhaustion phase: persistent stress depletes the body’s energy.

Stress and the Body

  • Medulla (in adrenal glands) releases epinephrine and norepinephrine.
  • HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal cortex) releases chemical messengers to the pituitary gland, which sends messages to the cortex of the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol (elevates blood sugar, protects body’s tissues from inflammation in case of injury).
    • Results in increased energy.
    • Elevated cortisol causes people to seek out more calories and fat.
      • May explain why people of lower socioeconomic status are generally in worse health.
  • Stress can suppress parts of the immune system.
  • Stress may shorten telomeres.
  • Stress leads to bad health via cortisol (suppressed immune system), eating comfort foods, smoking/drinking to cope.
  • What predicts cardiac events?
    • Depression and anxiety
    • High job stress and low control.
    • “Type A” personality, but hostility in particular.
  • High amygdala activation + high life stress → (leads to) higher rates of anxiety and depression later

Stress and the Mind

  • People who believe they have control over their own outcomes have an easier time resisting viral infection than people who think it’s luck or fate.

Hostility and Depression

  • People who are hostile (mistrustful of others, willing to start arguments) are at higher risk for heart disease.
  • Depression can lead to heart disease (via elevated cortisol → weight gain; via smoking/drinking/lack of exercise; via inflammation and increased risk of blood clots).

Emotional Inhibition

  • “Confessing” your emotions leads to better health.
  • When people rehearse grievances and hold grudges, their blood pressure, heart rate, and skin conductance rise.
    • Forgiveness = coming to terms with the injustice and letting go of obsessive feelings of hurt, rage, and vengefulness.

Coping with Stress

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Exercise
  • Yoga

Rethinking the problem (if it can’t be solved)

  • Reappraisal: change how you think about the problem.
  • Learn from the experience.
  • Make social comparisons (to people who have it worse).


  • Occurs after catastrophic events.
  • Symptoms
    • Intrusion symptoms (nightmares, flashbacks)
    • Avoiding reminders of the trauma
    • Negative alternations on cognition and mood
    • Increased arousal (more startle response, hypervigilance)
  • 8% of people will have PTSD in their lifetime
    • 15-30% of Vietnam veterans
    • 21-48% of sexual abuse survivors
    • 18-32% of firefighters
  • Some people get PTSD, some are able to cope.
  • Hypersensitive cortisol receptors in the brain can cause PTSD.
    • Cortisol levels are the same, but receptors are more sensitive.
  • Hyperresponsive amygdala.
  • Hyporesponsive (less responsive) medial prefrontal cortex (inhibits amygdala).