Effects of stress on behaviour and health Essay

Stress is a feeling of pressure that a person has when they are abused or pressured to do something. Stress could be either positive or negative. Positive, when it comes to athletes being stressed to score and negative when it’s because of maltreatment or other factors. Most psychological studies show that stress has a negative impact on people, especially children at young age, that could possibly cause them health problems or make them unable to be cognitive flexible.

Cognitive flexibility is the human’s ability to quickly respond to a new environment by giving up their own perspective and adapting to a new way of thinking. It usually interferes with social understanding. For example, a toddler may be focused that he is the one who is suppose to get all the toys, but, when he finds that his classmate wants the toy, he should be able to adapt to his friends perspective and decide to share the toy with him if he is cognitive flexible. `however, if he is not cognitive flexible, he will not accept other’s perspectives and persist on his. Psychologists use various ways to test people’s ability to be cognitive flexible. `the most famous method is by using pictures that can be perceived differently. For instance, the picture that can be seen as either two silhouettes facing each other, or a vase. If one is able to perceive the picture as both, the two silhouettes and the vase, then he/she is exercising the ability to be cognitive flexible.

In the article “Extreme stress during childhood can hurt social learning for years to come” Madeline Harms describes a study that evaluates how stress affects the ability to update one’s knowledge when circumstances change. This is a concept that psychologists often refer to as “cognitive flexibility.” The researchers brought a group of teens, in which half of them were physically abused by their guardian in their early youth. Their performance in a cognitive task was examined by the researchers in a lab. The purpose of the test was to know whether the half that were abused were able to link their actions in context to rewards and punishments. In order to do so, pictures of neutral objects such as a broom or shoes were projected to them. They were asked to link it to a reward or a punishment. The participants had the choice to press a button or not, if they pressed it they would either gain or lose points but if they chose not to, nothing would happen. Some picture resulted in the gain of points and other to the loss of points.

Previous studies stated that children who experienced stress when they were younger had difficulty in changing their responses. So the researchers decided to change the experiment halfway through, they switched it and made the pictures that led to a gain lead to loss instead and vice versa. The ones that were abused had hard time updating their behaviour when they learned the links between the context and action. During the assignment, the team were using functional magnetic to see the activity of specific areas in the brain. They “found similar patterns of reduced brain activity when reward is at stake in people who have psychological disorders such as depression.”(Harms , 2018) The result of the study was that early hardships or exposure to stress could affect how people achieve rewards in such a way that it makes them go through fewer positive than negative experiences even after the hardship is over. This may later on lead to depression or other psychological problems.

The article “How childhood stress can knock 20 years off your life” supports the previous study with further explanation. The previous study concluded that stress causes mental illness because one stops achieving rewards due to the lack of cognitive flexibility. This article does not have a direct study but it portrays this phenomena through an interview with James Redford , a filmmaker who produced a film which portrayed a life of a young children, who were abused and later suffered from health problems that include heart and lung diseases. It also mentioned the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) surveys which “asks people to respond to questions about childhood: did they witness substance abuse? Did their parents divorce or separate? Did anyone in the home have a mental illness? Was a family member imprisoned?” (Cocozza",2018) Whoever gets a three or more is at risk of having health illness.When James Redford read the research that Karen Pritzker, his film partner, gave him, he was able to relate it to his own experience when he visited a surgeon as an adult for a transplant since he was born prematurely. The surgeon asked him about his family life which bewildered him and made him ask for the reason of these questions. The surgeon replied by saying that the patients who undergo a transplant and do not have a family support do not usually survive. It shows how stress or exposure to trauma affects development rate.

To conclude, different studies show the negative consequences of stress and acts as a message to adults that stress doesn’t only affect children at young age but remains a burden on them their whole lives. It makes them unable to be cognitive flexible and may lead to dangerous diseases. However, these studies have very low reliability since they don’t mention anything about it being repeated and its not valid because they aren't from a psychology journal, they are just articles posted by people who aren’t experts. In addition to that, the samples of the studies are bias since they took place in the U.S only, other countries might have completely different results and a correlation between the the independent variable which the presence of stress or not and the dependent variable which is rate of health diseases and lack of the ability to be cognitive flexible might not exist.

Works Cited:

Cocozza, P. (2018). How childhood stress can knock 20 years off your life. Retrieved from


Extreme stress during childhood can hurt social learning for years to come. (2018). Retrieved from


“What Is Cognitive Flexibility?”. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZFtvNeDOdw

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