Many children who grow up in dysfunctional family homes find themselves living in a state of hypervigilance, never knowing how their parents are going to respond to them at any given time (for example, this is often the case in homes where one or both parents are alcoholics or in homes where the parents are subject to dramatic mood swings and outbursts of explosive rage (perhaps due to substance abuse or to mental illness). In other words, such children live in environments in which they are frequently exposed to severely stressful events but are unable to predict when such events will occur.
A study conducted by J.M Weiss (1970) was conducted to investigate the somatic (i.e. bodily) effects of unpredictable stressors on rats.
How was the study carried out?
In the study, the rats were split into two groups :
- GROUP ONE : The rats in this group were given UNPREDICTABLE electric shocks (the stressor)
- GROUP TWO : The rats in this group were also given electric shocks (each shock that the rats in this group received were of exactly the same intensity and duration as the shocks that the rats in group one received – HOWEVER, the shocks given to the rats in this group were PREDICTABLE (a warning signal was given immediately prior to the application of each shock).
So, to summarize :
- GROUP ONE RATS WERE SUBJECTED TO UNPREDICTABLE STRESSORS
- GROUP TWO RATS WERE SUBJECTED TO PREDICTABLE STRESSORS
Were The Somatic (Bodily) Effects On The Rats Different According To Which Group They Were In?
Yes. The rats in Group One (who were subjected to UNPREDICTABLE STRESSORS) suffered greater adverse somatic stress reactions than the did rats in Group Two (who were subjected to PREDICTABLE STRESSORS).
Somatic stress reactions shown by the rats included :
- changes in body weight
- stomach ulceration
- effects upon plasma corticosterone concentration
Similarly, living in an environment in which one is exposed to unpredictable stress can seriously, negatively impact on a young person’s psychological develpopment. Indeed, studies show that parents who treat their children in harsh and unpredictable ways, especially when the child is in an emotionally distressed state, increase these children’s risk becoming emotionally deregulated and unable to cope effectively with stress.
Such children may also be placed at risk of developing various physical problems such as obesity.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).