Stress & Emotion

I am a researcher who believes that in order to be a great scientist you need to know your topic in all aspects. For example, in the summer I sat in on a psychiatric genomic consortium workshop that had the main goal of understanding the best practices in traumatic stress genomics. I do not have a genetics background, I do not know anything about genes besides what I learned in high school, but thought this would be a rewarding experience to learn about the genetic research being conducted on PTSD. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that I was the only non-geneticist (give or take two others) that was present at the event. Of course, while it is important for geneticists to be there, how beneficial is it for only geneticists to know what research is being conducted in their own field? This experience came to my mind again while I was reading the book chapters written by Lazarus (1999). Specifically, Lazarus discusses how absurd the idea of studying stress without also studying emotions and coping, is. To him, the idea is absurd because when something stressful happens or is about to happen as humans we are going to display emotions that will help others understand the situation. Likewise, coping is equally important to discuss when discussing stress and emotions. Understanding the emotion one feels after a stressful situation will determine how an individual will cope with that situation. If an individual has negative emotions for the stressful situation, chances are they will not cope well. Furthermore, Lazarus goes on to say that individuals who work in the social sciences in general often have a narrow-minded outlook on their topic. While I might lose my head trying, I am so passionate about PTSD research that I wish to know all the research that has been done on the disorder. Whether it be basic or applied research, the more I know about the disorder in all aspects the better a researcher I will become. So I very much appreciate Lazarus’ statement.

Another piece of information my attention was drawn to while reading these chapters was the discussion of habituation. Habituation happens when we are repeatedly exposed to a stimulus and get used to the stimulus so that we no longer elicit a response to it. As an undergraduate, I was in a behavioral neuroscience laboratory where we would test rats using multiple testing paradigms such as light/dark box, elevated plus maze, and a forced swim paradigm. Days before the rats would complete these tests we would habituate them to the testing room so they were not stressed out about the new environment they were in. I bring up this experience because I can understand how rats in a laboratory can habituate to a given situation. However, Romero and Wingfield (2016) discuss the stress model of habituation in the context of free-living animals. I am having a hard time understanding how habituation would be beneficial, besides what was already discussed in the chapter about habituating to weather, to something that is stressful in free-living animals. As discussed in the Sapolsky (2004) our bodies adapt to acute stressors in order to focus on surviving. Specifically, when faced with an emergency, such as getting eaten, long-term things such as sexual desire can wait. I can see where habituation would be especially important because if our bodies were always in a stressed mode we would be unable to procreate or feel pain or our immune system would be down all the time. However, a question I have is in what other situations would free-living animals be able to habituate since they would certainly be unable to habituate to predators?

References:

Lazarus, R. S. (1999). Stress and emotion: A new synthesis. New York: Springer.

Romero, L.M., & Wingfield, J.C. (2016). Tempests, poxes, predators, and people: Stress in wild animals and how they cope. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sapolsky, R.M. (2004). Why zebras don’t get ulcers. New York: Owl Book/Henry Holt and Co.,

2 Comments

  1. If I understand your last question correctly, you’re asking what wild animals might have to habituate to besides changes in weather because they can’t really habituate to predators? I think one thing we do see animals habituate to is non-threatening predators, particularly humans. For example, wild animals initially may fear humans. However, as they get used to humans being around and not posing a threat, they seem to get braver and braver. Hence the squirrels we see munching on someone’s lunch like they own the place. You have to get pretty close before they decide to run off.

  2. I really enjoyed your post! When I think of habituation, I don’t necessarily just think of times that might be traumatic, such as in fearful situations or situations involving survival. As graduate students, I think we can all remember how stressed out we were when in high school or college, we heard for the first time that we had to write a 5-page paper. It may have seemed to be this daunting task that was impossible at the time. Nevertheless, we persisted through it and figured out ways to handle that 5-page paper, and countless other papers that were a higher page count after that. Now, as graduate students, we can be thankful that we made it through that initial challenge, and when we hear that we need to write 5 pages, it is not even a major concern or hurdle in our lives with all of the writing that we have to do on a daily basis. Surely, we have habituated. 🙂

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