Stress Inoculation Hypothesis Finds Support
> 7/8/2009 1:37:10 PM

It may seem counterintuitive, but the stress inoculation hypothesis proposes that moderate stress can sometimes protect against extreme stress. Previous work with primates found that brief intermittent stress exposure early in life built long-lasting stress resistance.  Despite promising support from animal studies, the validity of the hypothesis is far from settled. The question came much closer to an answer this month through the work of Dr. James Gross.

Dr. Gross’ study, which appears this month in Depression and Anxiety, finally got strong evidence for the hypothesis from humans by examining 97 women. Each of the women was given a questionnaire that determined the level of anxiety that she was exposed to in childhood. Next, they were given tests for implicit and explicit anxiety with word choice and memory rumination tests respectively.

Women who reported exposure to moderate stress early in life displayed less implicit anxiety. This protection did not, however, lower their levels of explicit anxiety. Further research is required to determine why inoculation protects against some kinds of stress but not others, but it is clear from Dr. Gross’ work that this topic deserves attention. If people can be prepared for stressful events beforehand, then therapists may be able to cushion their patients for the inevitable crises they will face in life.  

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