Mechanisms of Stress in Humans

Christina Shih


The purpose of this literature review is to summarize stress-related research to better understand the mechanisms of stress. The connections between stress and environmental, physiological, as well as neurological factors were examined.  Research has shown that stress exposure was related to cognitive dysfunctions, altered attention strategies, reduced capacity to experience pleasure, and higher risk-taking tendency in achieving gains. A high level of stress was associated with greater hippocampal volume loss and was found to hinder memory retrieval while enhancing memory consolidation process.  Physiologically, high stress levels were linked to shortened telomeres, elevated levels of circulating inflammatory markers, as well as hypoactivation of electrodermal activity and diurnal cortisol in response to stressors. Moreover, prenatal stress exposure was found to be a risk factor that can make an individual vulnerable to develop later stress-related physical and psychological problems. Researchers have also identified protective factors that can buffer individuals from the negative impact of stress.

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