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The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress


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Background and objectives: Prior research suggests that altering situation-specific evaluations of stress as challenging versus threatening can improve responses to stress. The aim of the current study was to explore whether cognitive, physiological and affective stress responses can be altered independent of situation-specific evaluations by changing individuals’ mindsets about the nature of stress in general. Design: Using a 2 × 2 design, we experimentally manipulated stress mindset using multi-media film clips orienting participants (N = 113) to either the enhancing or debilitating nature of stress. We also manipulated challenge and threat evaluations by providing positive or negative feedback to participants during a social stress test. Results: Results revealed that under both threat and challenge stress evaluations, a stress-is-enhancing mindset produced sharper increases in anabolic (“growth”) hormones relative to a stress-is-debilitating mindset. Furthermore, when the stress was evaluated as a challenge, a stress-is-enhancing mindset produced sharper increases in positive affect, heightened attentional bias towards positive stimuli, and greater cognitive flexibility, whereas a stress-is-debilitating mindset produced worse cognitive and affective outcomes. Conclusions: These findings advance stress management theory and practice by demonstrating that a short manipulation designed to generate a stress-is-enhancing mindset can improve responses to both challenging and threatening stress.
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Anxiety, Stress, & Coping
An International Journal
ISSN: 1061-5806 (Print) 1477-2205 (Online) Journal homepage:
The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive,
emotional, and physiological responses to
challenging and threatening stress
Alia J. Crum, Modupe Akinola, Ashley Martin & Sean Fath
To cite this article: Alia J. Crum, Modupe Akinola, Ashley Martin & Sean Fath (2017): The role of
stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and
threatening stress, Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, DOI: 10.1080/10615806.2016.1275585
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Published online: 25 Jan 2017.
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The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and
physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress
Alia J. Crum
, Modupe Akinola
, Ashley Martin
and Sean Fath
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA;
Department of Management, Columbia
University, New York, NY, USA;
Department of Management and Organizations, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
Background and objectives: Prior research suggests that altering
situation-specific evaluations of stress as challenging versus threatening
can improve responses to stress. The aim of the current study was to
explore whether cognitive, physiological and affective stress responses
can be altered independent of situation-specific evaluations by changing
individualsmindsets about the nature of stress in general.
Design: Using a 2 × 2 design, we experimentally manipulated stress
mindset using multi-media film clips orienting participants (N= 113) to
either the enhancing or debilitating nature of stress. We also
manipulated challenge and threat evaluations by providing positive or
negative feedback to participants during a social stress test.
Results: Results revealed that under both threat and challenge stress
evaluations, a stress-is-enhancing mindset produced sharper increases in
anabolic (growth) hormones relative to a stress-is-debilitating mindset.
Furthermore, when the stress was evaluated as a challenge, a stress-is-
enhancing mindset produced sharper increases in positive affect,
heightened attentional bias towards positive stimuli, and greater
cognitive flexibility, whereas a stress-is-debilitating mindset produced
worse cognitive and affective outcomes.
Conclusions: These findings advance stress management theory and
practice by demonstrating that a short manipulation designed to
generate a stress-is-enhancing mindset can improve responses to both
challenging and threatening stress.
Received 17 June 2016
Revised 11 December 2016
Accepted 14 December 2016
Stress; mindset; appraisal;
affect; cognitive
Pioneering studies by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) highlighted the importance of cognitive appraisal
in determining the stress response. This research proposed that individuals first appraise the degree
to which the situation is demanding (primary appraisal) and then appraise whether or not they have
adequate resources to cope with the situation (secondary appraisal). More recently, researchers have
elaborated on these stages and highlighted that the stress response is determined by the balance of
perceived resources (e.g., knowledge, skills) and perceived demands (e.g., danger, uncertainty) and
have identified physiological concomitants of these challenge and threat evaluations (Blascovich,
Mendes, Tomaka, Salomon, & Seery, 2003; Gaab, Rohleder, Nater, & Ehlert, 2005; Seery, 2011;
Tomaka, Blascovich, Kelsey, & Leitten, 1993; Tomaka, Blascovich, Kibler, & Ernst, 1997; Wirtz et al.,
2007). Simply put, a situation is deemed threatening when the individual evaluates the environmental
demands to outweigh their resources or ability to cope. Physiologically, threat evaluations are associ-
ated with lower cardiovascular efficiency, heightened hormonal responses, negative affect, and
poorer cognitive performance (Kassam, Koslov, & Mendes, 2009; Mendes, Blascovich, Hunter,
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Alia J. Crum
Institution where research was conducted.
Lickel, & Jost, 2007). A situation is considered challenging when the individual perceives that they
have sufficient resources to meet the environmental demands. Challenge evaluations are typically
associated with increased cardiac efficiency and hormonal responses related to thriving and
growth, preparing the body for action and signaling approach motivation as well as increases in cog-
nitive performance (Kassam et al., 2009; Mendes et al., 2007).
While the distinction between threatand challengeevaluations is important, there are a few
critical limitations to practically applying threat and challenge theory to improve stress responses.
First, given that the components of demands include danger and uncertainty, there are times in
which it may be impossible to reduce the demands of a situation; for example, facing an unpredict-
able stressor such as a pop-quiz in a difficult class or receiving an unexpected cardiac-related health
diagnosis. Second, since the elements of resources include knowledge and abilities, there are
instances where trying to increase resources may be futile, particularly in the short-term; for instance,
cramming in new material two minutes before a pop-quiz or researching all possible cardiac-related
health diagnoses. Finally, trying to minimize the experience of threat by reducing demands and
increasing resources does not capitalize on the possibility that the imbalance itself can promote
psychological and physiological growth.
In light of these limitations, two important questions arise: is it possible to acknowledge a stressor
as a threat,yet still garner adaptive physiological and behavioral outcomes? Conversely, might it be
possible to appraise a stressor as a challenge,but nevertheless experience maladaptive physiologi-
cal and behavioral outcomes? In the current paper, we address these questions by examining the role
ones mindset about stress plays in challenge and threat contexts. Specifically, we examine whether
the extent to which one holds an adaptive mindset about stress (e.g., that stress-is-enhancing) or a
maladaptive mindset about stress (e.g., that stress-is-debilitating) will alter ones physiological, cog-
nitive, and emotional responses in the context of challenge and threat evaluations.
Stress mindset theory
Stress mindset is conceptualized as the extent to which an individual holds the mindset that stress
has enhancing consequences for various stress-related outcomes (referred to as a stress-is-enhan-
cing mindset) or holds the mindset that stress has debilitating consequences for outcomes such
as performance and productivity, health and well-being, and learning and growth (referred to as a
stress-is-debilitating mindset) (Crum, Salovey, & Achor, 2013). There is growing evidence that
mindset not only affects outcomes in domains of intelligence (Dweck, 2008) and aging (Levy &
Myers, 2004), but also shapes the stress response. Preliminary studies measuring stress mindset
suggest that stress mindset is related to perceived health and life satisfaction over and above aggre-
gate measures of amounts of stress, appraisals of stress, and various coping strategies (Crum et al.,
2013). Additionally, individuals who have a stress-is-enhancing mindset exhibit more adaptive phys-
iological responses and more approach-oriented behavioral responses in the face of stress (Crum
et al., 2013). Specifically, participants who rated themselves as having a stress-is-enhancing
mindset experienced moderate cortisol reactivity and were more receptive to feedback than those
with a stress-is-debilitating mindset when exposed to an acutely stressful situation. Stress mindset
can also be altered via intervention to produce corresponding changes in self-reported health and
work performance (Crum et al., 2013). In line with evidence that suggests mindsets can be
changed quite readily by simply orienting people to different information (cf. Blackwell, Trzesniewski,
& Dweck, 2007; Dweck, 2008; Paunesku et al., 2015; Tamir, John, Srivastava, & Gross, 2007; Walton,
2014), mindsets about stress can be changed by having individuals watch a series of three, 3-
minute videos orienting them to either the enhancing or debilitating effects of stress (Crum et al.,
2013). Further, prior research has demonstrated that video interventions can influence performance
and well-being; participants exposed to stress-is-enhancing videos not only developed a stress-is-
enhancing mindset, but also reported better work performance and improved health conditions
(Crum et al., 2013). These strong effects of stress mindset video interventions are consistent with
research more broadly highlighting the enduring effects of interventions using short articles or
videos to alter mindset in other domains including intelligence (Blackwell et al., 2007), belongingness
(Walton, 2014), aging (Levy & Myers, 2004) and emotion regulation (Tamir et al., 2007).
Taken together, the emerging body of research on mindsets suggests that one way to meaning-
fully influence the stress response is to change an individuals mindset about stress. The concept that
stress mindset is not situation-specific and can influence the stress response regardless of challenge
and threat evaluations has been argued conceptually and through structural equation modeling (see
Crum et al., 2013). However, this premise has not been experimentally tested, leaving open the ques-
tion of exactly how experiences of stress may differ in the context of both challenge and threat evalu-
ations, depending on ones stress mindset.
Distinguishing between stress mindset and threat versus challenge theories
One critical distinction between stress mindset theory and theories surrounding challenge and
threat evaluations is that stress mindset does not focus on the amount of stress one is experiencing
or the manner in which one appraises and copes with stress. Rather, stress mindset focuses on the
nature of stress itself (i.e., whether stress is enhancing or debilitating). Stress mindset is distinct from
stress evaluations in that it is a meta-cognitive belief about the nature of stress in general, and
exists regardless of how an individual assesses demands and resources at any particular
moment (Crum et al., 2013). For example, one may view a stressor (e.g., job interview) as threaten-
ing, but have a stress-is-enhancing mindset, expecting the experience of stress to result in positive
outcomes (e.g., motivation to practice interviewing skills, staying cognitively focused, and ulti-
mately improving self-esteem). Conversely, one might view the job interview as a challenge but
have a stress-is-debilitating mindset, expecting the experience of stress to result in negative out-
comes (e.g., energy depletion, cognitive deficits, and reduced self-esteem). In addition, mindset
differs from evaluations of challenge or threat in its temporal focus: threat or challenge evaluations
are an immediate assessment of ones resources to cope with the demands of the stressor while
mindset assesses the long-term influence of the stressor in light of ones belief about the nature
of stress.
Understanding how stress mindset operates in challenging and threatening contexts provides
critical insights into if and how individuals can improve their responses to stress without relying
on changing the demands of a situation (which may be difficult or impossible), or improving their
immediate resources (which can be infeasible or taxing). Further, the majority of interventions
intended to engender adaptive stress responses rely on altering situation-specific stress evaluations.
By showing that the stress response can be altered independent of situation-specific evaluations by
changing individualsgeneral beliefs, we advance existing literature and lay the foundation for an
integrated theory that can apply to any type of stressful situation. Practically, understanding how
stress mindset operates in the context of threat and challenge evaluations will offer more specific
coping strategies, and more flexible options that can aid individuals in improving their stress
responses in varied contexts.
Overview of the current research
In the current study, we experimentally manipulated stress-is-enhancing and stress-is-debilitating
mindsets and then exposed participants to a laboratory social stressor (adapted Trier Social
Stress Task; [TSST] Kirschbaum, Pirke, & Hellhammer, 1993) designed to engender threat or chal-
lenge stress evaluations. Following the stress manipulation, we assessed participantsmood, cog-
nitive flexibility, and attentional bias, all metrics found to be influenced by stress (Alexander, Hillier,
Smith, Tivarus, & Beversdorf, 2007; Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler, & Schilling, 1989; Het & Wolf, 2007;
Mogg, Mathews, Bird, & Macgregor-Morris, 1990; Plessow, Fischer, Kirschbaum, &
Goschke, 2011). We also measured the catabolic hormone, cortisol, and its anabolic counterpart,
dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEAS) to test the degree to which stress-is-enhancing and
stress-is-debilitating mindsets differentially promote physiological thriving when evaluating a situ-
ation as challenging or threatening (Dienstbier, 1989; Epel, McEwen, & Ickovics, 1998). We hypoth-
esized that those evaluating the stressor as a threat (engendered through negative feedback
during the social stress task) would exhibit maladaptive emotional, cognitive, and neuroendocrine
responses to stress relative to those evaluating the stressor as a challenge (engendered through
positive feedback during the social stress task). Specifically, we predicted that threat evaluations
would be associated with greater negative emotion, diminished cognitive flexibility, heightened
focus on threatening faces, and greater cortisol secretion relative to challenge evaluations.
Further, we predicted an interaction between mindset and challenge and threat conditions,
such that under threat, having a stress-is-enhancing mindset would be associated with more adap-
tive emotional, cognitive, and neuroendocrine responses than having a stress-is-debilitating
mindset. Conversely, under challenge, we predicted that having a stress-is-debilitating mindset
might dampen or even inhibit the cognitive, physiological, or psychological benefits of challenge
We recruited 124 (40.2% White, 32% Asian, 15.3% Black, 9.8% Native American, and 2.5% other) par-
ticipants (65.6% female; M
= 24.1 years; SD = 5.1) from a university study pool. Participants received
$20 for their participation. A power analysis based on the average effect size (d= .66) found in pre-
vious stress reappraisal manipulations (e.g., Jamieson, Mendes, Blackstock, & Schmader, 2010; Jamie-
son, Nock, & Mendes, 2012; Tomaka et al., 1993) led to a targeted sample of 30 participants per
Participants were scheduled to participate for 90 minutes during afternoon hours (between 2:30 pm
and 5 pm). Participants were instructed to refrain from drinking caffeine or eating yogurt for a
minimum of two hours prior to their scheduled time and from engaging in strenuous exercise, drink-
ing alcohol, smoking, or taking non-prescription medication immediately before their appointment.
During the consent process, the experimenter asked participants if they had complied with these
instructions, and collected information on the number of hours participants slept the night prior, if
they felt sick, and for females, the date of their last menstrual cycle. Following informed consent pro-
cedures, participants completed questionnaires assessing their mood and stress mindset and pro-
vided the first saliva sample. Stress mindset was then induced by randomly assigning participants
to watch a 3-minute video that either emphasized the enhancing properties of stress (stress-is-enhan-
cing condition) or the deleterious properties of stress (stress-is-debilitating condition). The videos
were comprised of words, music, and corresponding images related to the effects of stress on cog-
nitive performance (Crum et al., 2013).
Following the videos, participants again completed the stress
mindset measure (SMM).
Participants then engaged in a modified version of the TSST, which was described as a mock job
interview.During the interview, participants were instructed to give an 8-minute speech, followed by
a 5-minute question and answer period in which they discussed their dream job and described their
strengths and weaknesses in front of two interviewers (one white male and one white female)
(Akinola & Mendes, 2008). We selected a public speaking/verbal task rather than a math/cognitive
task as we wanted to create a motivated performance situation that would allow participants to
receive explicit positive and negative verbal feedback on their performance and consistent with evi-
dence that both public speaking/verbal interaction tasks and math/cognitive tasks can result in
heightened HPA activation (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004).
On the basis of previous research, we manipulated challenge and threat evaluations by randomly
assigning participants to receive either positive or negative feedback during the interview (Akinola &
Mendes, 2008; Kassam et al., 2009). Approximately 30 seconds into the interview, participants
assigned to the positive feedback condition received positive verbal and nonverbal feedback from
the interviewers who nodded, smiled, leaned forward, and gave explicit positive feedback (e.g.,
You are very clear and manage to put your personality across. You are very self-assured and auth-
entic, really great job). In the negative feedback condition, interviewers expressed negative nonver-
bal feedback by furrowing their brows, shaking their heads, and crossing their arms throughout the
interview. They also gave explicit negative feedback (e.g., I felt that you could be much clearer and
more articulate. Think about what you are saying before you say it). The entire interview task, includ-
ing preparation time, speech, and Q & A lasted approximately 20 minutes.
Immediately following the interview, participants completed demand and resource evaluations
and reported their emotions. They then provided a second saliva sample (timed approximately 30
minutes after the onset of the social stress task) after which they engaged in two
cognitive perform-
ance tasks assessing attentional bias (timed approximately 40 minutes after the onset of the social
stress task) and cognitive flexibility (timed approximately 45 minutes after the onset of the social
stress task). Finally, participants provided a third and final saliva sample (timed approximately 60
minutes after the onset of the social stress task). At the end of the study, participants were debriefed,
paid, and thanked.
Stress mindset
Stress mindset was assessed prior to and following the video manipulation using the SMM (Crum
et al., 2013). Participants rated how strongly they agreed with eight statements (e.g., the effects of
stress are positive and should be utilized, the effects of stress are negative and should be avoided)
on a 0 (strongly disagree)to4(strongly agree) scale with numbers equal to or above two reflecting
a stress-is-enhancing mindset (α
= .85, α
= .94).
Threat vs. challenge evaluations
After the speech task, participants evaluated the demands of the situation (e.g., the task was very
demanding) and their resources (e.g., I had the abilities to perform well on the task) on a 1 (strongly
disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) scale (Akinola & Mendes, 2013). Demand (α= .80) and resource (α= .75)
evaluations were averaged separately and a “‘threat ratio’” (demands/resources) was created. In line
with previous research (Akinola & Mendes, 2008; Kassam et al., 2009), ratios above 1 indicated threat
evaluations and below 1 indicated challenge evaluations.
Positive and negative affect
We assessed self-reported emotions at five time-points: (1) upon arrival (baseline), (2) after watching
the stress mindset videos, (3) after receiving speech task instructions, (4) after the speech task (during
the social stress task), and (5) after the question and answer component of social stress task, using the
Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). Participants rated their feel-
ings on 20 emotional states (10 positive; 10 negative) on a 1 (not at all) to 5 (a great deal) scale. Posi-
tive (αs range from.89 to .92) and negative (αs range from.80 to .85) emotion scales were calculated.
Because we were primarily interested in examining changes in positive affect and negative affect in
anticipation of and during the social stress task, we focused our analyses the three key time-points: (1)
baseline, (2) pre-speech, and (3) post-speech. For ease of interpretation, we report results from only
these three time-periods, however, analyses using all five times periods followed similar linear and
quadratic trends.
Attentional bias
To assess visual attention to positive and negative stimuli, participants engaged in a computerized
dot-probe task (MacLeod, Mathews, & Tata, 1986). Black and white pictures of white male faces iden-
tical to those used in Bradley, Mogg, Falla, and Hamilton (1998) served as stimuli. The emotions dis-
played in the pictures varied such that there were 16 angry faces, 16 happy faces, and eight neutral
faces. Each trial began with a fixation cross in the middle of the screen for 500 ms, followed by 200 ms
of blank screen. Stimulus pairs were then presented, consisting of angry/neutral, happy/neutral, or
neutral/neutral-face pairings, displayed horizontally, side by side on the screen. Face pairs were pre-
sented for 1500 ms after which one of the pictures was replaced by the visual probe (a small dot).
Participants were instructed to press one of two keys indicating the side, right or left, of the
probes appearance. Reaction time to the probe was used to assess participantsattentional bias.
Facial expression of the stimuli (happy, angry, or neutral) and dot position (right or left of fixation)
were randomized across all 80 trials presented and the computer recorded latencies. Response
latencies above 2000 milliseconds and below 200 milliseconds were removed from the data, as
were all incorrect responses (less than 5% of total responses) (Koster, Crombez, Verschuere, & De
Houwer, 2004). Attentional bias scores were calculated separately for happy and angry faces by sub-
tracting participantsmean log-transformed dot-detection latency for the happy or angry-face
location trials from their mean log-transformed dot-detection latency for the neutral-face location
trials (cf. Richeson & Trawalter, 2008). Greater bias scores indicate greater attention to the happy
(or angry) faces.
Cognitive flexibility
Participants engaged in the Alternative Uses Task (Guilford, 1967) in which they were asked to gen-
erate as many creative uses for a newspaper as possible within two minutes. Because of the time con-
straints on this task, participants must utilize cognitive flexibility to avoid perseveration and come up
with multiple uses for the newspaper before the time for the task expires. Uses were coded for
fluency (total number of responses), elaboration (amount of detail for each response), flexibility
(number of different categories used), and originality (uniqueness of the responses). Two indepen-
dent judges, unaware of condition, scored the four categories. Final scores were computed by
taking the average of the two codersscores (inter-coder reliability ranged from.80 to .90).
Neuroendocrine measures: DHEAS and cortisol
Saliva samples were obtained at three time-periods: (1) before the social stress task (T1), (2) approxi-
mately 30 minutes after the onset of the social stress task but before the cognitive tasks (T2), and (3)
approximately 60 minutes after the onset of the social stress task, immediately following the cogni-
tive tasks (T3). At each time point, 1 mL of saliva was collected using the passive drool method.
Because DHEAS levels are known to vary depending on flow rate, the time it took for participants
to complete each 1 mL sample was recorded by the experimenter. Upon completion of the study,
saliva samples were immediately frozen until they were shipped overnight on dry ice to a laboratory
in College Park, PA. Saliva samples were assayed for cortisol and DHEAS using a highly sensitive
enzyme immunoassay (Salimetrics, PA). Intra- and inter-assay coefficients were less than 10%. Flow
rates for each time period for DHEAS were calculated as 1mL divided by the time it took for each
sample to be collected and DHEAS levels multiplied by the flow rate so as to express the results as
a function of time (pg/min). Finally, because DHEAS and cortisol levels were positively skewed,
they were log-transformed prior to analysis.
Data analysis strategy
To test our prediction that stress mindset would differentially influence affective, cognitive, and
neuroendocrine responses depending on the type of stress (i.e., challenge or threat) experienced,
we conducted 2 (mindset: stress-is-enhancing vs. stress-is-debilitating) × 2 (feedback: negative/threat
vs. positive/challenge) ANOVAs for all dependent variables. For positive affect, negative affect,
DHEAS, and cortisol (all of which were collected at multiple time-points) we conducted repeated
measures ANOVAs with time as a within-subjects variable and mindset and feedback conditions as
between subjects variables. Gender and stress mindset at baseline were included as covariates in
all analyses. Hours of sleep and menstrual cycle phase were also included as covariates for the neuro-
endocrine measures.
In cases where Mauchlys test of sphericity was violated, degrees of freedom
were corrected using Greenhouse-Geisser estimates of sphericity.
Participant attrition
Eleven participants were excluded from the analyses, five due to recognition of the evaluators (con-
federates), four to equipment malfunction, and two because they did not complete the entire study.
Data from the remaining 113 participants were used in all analyses. Varying degrees of freedom
reflect the data loss across variables. Means and standard deviations are reported for all key
outcome variables in Table 1.
Manipulation checks
Changes in stress mindset from baseline were measured to assess whether the videos engendered
stress-is-enhancing and stress-is-debilitating mindsets. Participants in the stress-is-enhancing con-
dition experienced increases on the SMM reflecting a more enhancing stress mindset (M= 2.48); t
(53) = 7.99, p< .001, while those in the stress-is-debilitating condition experienced decreases on
the SMM reflecting a more debilitating stress mindset (M= 1.13); t(53) = -7.63, p< .001 (Figure 1(a)).
We then examined the threat ratio created from the cognitive evaluations following the speech
task. As intended, the negative feedback condition resulted in a higher threat ratio (M= 1.44) than
the positive feedback condition (M= .95), t(111) = 4.82, p< .001 (Figure 1(b)), indicating that we suc-
cessfully manipulated threat and challenge evaluations.
Table 1. Means and standard deviations (in parentheses) for key outcome variables as a function of mindset and feedback
Positive feedback (challenge appraisal) Negative feedback (threat appraisal)
Stress-is-enhancing Stress-is-debilitating Stress-is-enhancing Stress-is-debilitating
Positive affect (15)
Baseline 2.99 (0.81) 2.91 (0.75) 3.10 (0.66) 3.04 (0.80)
Pre-speech 3.11 (0.66) 2.69 (0.83) 2.96 (0.87) 2.80 (0.96)
Post-speech 3.51 (0.81) 2.99 (0.86) 2.80 (0.77) 2.58 (0.91)
Negative affect (15)
Baseline 1.42 (0.37) 1.55 (0.57) 1.52 (0.47) 1.58 (0.56)
Pre-speech 1.86 (0.57) 1.97 (0.70) 2.02 (0.59) 2.10 (0.75)
Post-speech 1.35 (0.35) 1.48 (0.41) 2.06 (0.67) 2.14 (0.76)
Attentional bias
Happy faces 19.08 (33) 0.84 (45) 1.81 (45) 5.17 (45)
Angry faces 0.78 (33) 3.09 (50) 11.34 (50) 21.16 (37)
Cognitive flexibility 6.34 (2.03) 5.12 (2.21) 4.63 (2.19) 5.06 (2.30)
Cortisol (pg/ml)
Baseline 17.76 (13.07) 10.75 (5.08) 16.61 (7.15) 12.56 (6.17)
Post-social stress task 23.97 (12.26) 21.49 (18.36) 25.87 (14.07) 23.92 (25.63)
Post-cognitive tasks 16.67 (9.35) 16.65 (13.09) 21.59 (13.52) 16.87 (13.65)
DHEAS (pg/min)
Baseline 2550.74 (2219) 2752.41 (2108) 2633.98 (1972) 2992.33 (3674)
Post-social stress task 3804.08 (3750) 2479.32 (2045) 6541.92 (9487) 2686.07 (2291)
Post-cognitive tasks 1952.50 (1175) 2459.07 (2192) 2671.21 (1736) 3032.96 (2084)
Importantly, the stress mindset manipulation did not significantly alter evaluations of the speech
task in either the positive (F(1, 55) =0.29,p= .593,η
= .005) or negative (F(1, 56) =0.09,p= .763,η
= .007) feedback conditions. This finding supports the theory that mindsets and threat versus chal-
lenge evaluations are distinct constructs and therefore could be examined independently.
Positive and negative affect
For positive affect, we observed a significant time × feedback condition effect F(2, 202) =18.29,p
< .001, η
= .153 such that participants in the positive feedback (challenge evaluation) condition
experienced increases in positive affect over time relative to those in the negative feedback
(threat evaluation) condition, who experienced decreases in positive affect over time. We also
found a significant time × mindset condition effect F(2, 202) =3.63,p= .020, η
= .035 such that par-
ticipants in the stress-is-enhancing condition experienced increases in positive affect over time rela-
tive to those in the stress-is-debilitating condition, who experienced decreases in positive affect over
time. The three-way interaction between mindset, feedback, and time was not statistically significant
F(2, 202) = 0.73, p> .482, η
= .007. However, simple-effects tests (illustrated in Figure 2) demon-
strated that while there were no differences between the four conditions in positive affect at baseline
F(3, 112) = 0.322, p= .810, η
= .009 or prior to the speech F(3, 110) = 1.35, p= .262, η
= .037, there
was a significant difference between conditions following the speech F(3, 112) = 5.47, p= .002, η
= .131, such that participants who had a stress-is-enhancing mindset and were in the positive feed-
back (challenge evaluation) condition had significantly more positive affect after the speech task than
participants in the other three conditions.
For negative affect, we observed a significant time × feedback condition effect, F(1.84, 186) =
19.63,p< .001,η
= .163. Simple-effects tests within each time period (Figure 2) indicated that
there were no differences in negative affect between the positive feedback (challenge evaluation)
condition and the negative feedback (threat evaluation) condition at baseline F(1, 106) = 2.37, p
= .126, η
= .023, or pre-speech F(1, 107) = 0.90, p= .345, η
= .007. However, there were significant
differences between conditions following the speech F(1, 107) = 37.99, p< .001, η
= .271, such
that negative affect remained higher for participants in the negative feedback (threat evaluation)
condition compared to participants in the positive feedback (challenge evaluation) condition.
Neither the time × mindset condition effect nor the three-way interaction between mindset, feed-
back, and time were significant [F(1.84, 186) =0.02,p= 978, η
= .000 and F(1.84, 186) =0.036,p
= .965, η
= .000, respectively].
Figure 1. Means and standard errors for SMM pre- and post-mindset video (a) and Threat ratio post-speech (b).
Note: SIE = stress-is-enhancing and SID = stress-is-debilitating.
Attentional bias
Results for attentional bias for happy faces showed a similar pattern as our positive affect findings in
the positive feedback condition. There were no main effects of mindset or feedback condition on
attentional bias, however there was a significant mindset × feedback condition interaction, F(1, 95)
= 4.48, p= .037, η
= .047. Simple-effects tests showed that, in the positive feedback (challenge evalu-
ation) condition, bias towards happy faces was significantly higher for those with a stress-is-enhan-
cing mindset relative to those with a stress-is-debilitating mindset, F(1, 46) = 4.40, p= .042, η
= .091,
again suggesting that a stress-is-enhancing mindset only boosted attentional bias towards happy
faces when participants were in the positive feedback (challenge stress evaluation) condition. In con-
trast, in the negative feedback (threat evaluation) condition, there was no difference in bias toward
happy faces between mindset conditions, F(1, 48) = 0.88, p= .354, η
= .019 (Figure 3(a)). With respect
to attentional bias toward angry faces on the Dot Probe task, we observed a marginally significant
effect of feedback condition, F(1, 95) = 3.46, p= .066, η
= .037, such that those in the negative feed-
back (threat evaluation) condition showed greater attentional bias away from angry faces than those
in the positive feedback (challenge evaluation) condition (Figure 3(b)).
Figure 2. Mean positive affect (a) and negative affect (b) ratings as a function of mindset and feedback condition over three time-
Note: SIE =stress-is-enhanc ing and SID =stress-is-de bilitating; Error bars show standard errors.
Cognitive flexibility
For flexibility, while there was no main effect of mindset, we observed a significant main effect of
feedback condition F(1, 105) = 4.64, p= .033, η
= .044, such that participants in the positive feedback
(challenge evaluation) condition received higher cognitive flexibility scores than those in the nega-
tive feedback (threat evaluation) condition. This main effect was qualified by a marginally significant
interaction, F(1, 105) = 3.63, p= .060, η
= .035. Consistent with our attentional bias findings, partici-
pants who were in the positive feedback (challenge evaluation) condition and held a stress-is-enhan-
cing mindset received higher flexibility scores than those who held a stress-is-debilitating mindset, F
(1, 52) = 4.22, p= .045, η
= .079 (Figure 3(c)). Aligned with the aforementioned effects, this suggests
that a stress-is-enhancing mindset only generated creative flexibility when participants were in the
positive feedback (challenge evaluation) condition. In contrast, in the negative feedback (threat
evaluation) condition, there was no difference in flexibility between mindset conditions, F(1, 52) =
0.21, p= .648, η
= .004. In other words, whereas stress-is-enhancing and stress-is-debilitating mind-
sets significantly differed from each other in cognitive flexibility in the positive feedback condition,
they did not differ in the negative feedback condition.
In summary, for each of the cognitive performance categories, we observed differential perform-
ance for participants with a stress-is-enhancing mindset relative to those with a stress-is-debilitating
mindset, but mainly in the positive feedback (challenge evaluation) condition.
Figure 3. Attentional bias scores for happy faces (a), attentional bias scores for angry faces (b), and creativity scores (c) as a function
of mindset and feedback conditions.
Note: SIE =stress-is-enhanc ing and SID =stress-is-de bilitating; Error bars show standard errors;*p< .05.
10 A. J. CRUM ET AL.
Neuroendocrine responses: DHEAS and cortisol
For DHEAS, we observed a significant time × mindset condition effect, F(2, 108) =6.62,p= .002,η
= .109. Within-subjects contrasts revealed that this effect was quadratic in nature, F(1, 54) =12.32,
p= .001, η
= .186, such that that relative to participants in the stress-is debilitating condition, partici-
pants in the stress-is-enhancing condition experienced significantly sharper increases in DHEAS
between baseline (T1) and the end of the social stress task (T2), F(1, 54) =10.65,p= .002, η
= .165,
followed by significantly sharper decreases in DHEAS between the end of the social stress task
(T2) and the end of the cognitive tasks (T3), F(1, 55) =7.73,p= .007, η
= .123. Simple-effects tests
within each time period (illustrated in Figure 4(a)) indicated that there were no differences in
DHEAS between the stress-is-enhancing and stress-is-debilitating mindset conditions at baseline
(T1), F(1, 60) =0.29,p= .595, η
= .005 or following the cognitive tasks (T3), F(1, 61) =0.04,p= .845,
= .001, but that DHEAS was higher for participants in the stress-is-enhancing mindset condition
compared to participants in the stress-is-debilitating mindset condition following the speech task
(T2), F(1, 61) =4.07,p= .048, η
= .068. Neither the time × feedback condition effect nor the mindset ×
feedback × time effects were significant for DHEAS [F(2, 108) =1.17,p= .316, η
= .021 and F(2, 108)
=0.27,p= .764,η
= .005, respectively].
Figure 4. Changes in DHEAS (a) and cortisol (b) over time as a function of mindset.
Note: SIE =stress-is-enhanc ing and SID =stress-is-de bilitating; Error bars show standard errors at each time period.
For cortisol, the time × mindset condition was not significant F(1.22, 67.13) = 0.41, p= .665, η
= .007. Further, aligned with our DHEAS findings, neither the time × feedback condition effect nor
the time × mindset × feedback effects were significant for cortisol [F(1.22, 67.13) = 0.13, p= .878, η
= .002 and F(1.22, 67.13) = 0.367, p= .694, η
= .002, respectively].
Exploratory analyses
In line with research suggesting that bothDHEAS (e.g., Morgan et al., 2004; Shields, Lam, Trainor, & Yone-
linas, 2016; Sripada et al., 2013) and cortisol (e.g., Gagnon & Wagner, 2016; Het, Ramlow, & Wolf, 2005;
Shields, Bonner, & Moons, 2015) can influence cognitive functioning, we examined the relationship
between our neuroendocrine measures and cognitive performance scores using the AUC increase
measure for both DHEAS and cortisol. In order to analyze these correlations, we conducted area under
the curve increase analysis (AUC; Pruessner, Kirschbaum, Meinlschmid, & Hellhammer, 2003) using the
following formula: (((HormoneTime1 + HormoneTime2) * 60)/2) + (((HormoneTime2 + HormoneTime3)
* 20)/2) (HormoneTime1 * 80), with 60 representing the time between the first and second saliva
samples, 20 representing the time between the second and third saliva samples, and 80 representing
the time from saliva sample one to saliva sample three. These results indicated no significant correlations
between our neuroendocrine measures and our cognitive performance measures (all ps > .510).
The goal of this study was to examine how stress mindset would moderate emotional, cognitive, and
neuroendocrine responses in the context of challenge and threat evaluations. Consistent with extant
theory, we predicted that threat evaluations would produce poorer emotional, cognitive, and neuro-
endocrine outcomes relative to challenge evaluations. However, we also predicted that threat and
challenge evaluations would be moderated by stress mindset such that having a stress-is-enhancing
mindset would improve responses in the context of threat evaluations and having a stress-is-debil-
itating mindset would worsen responses in the context of challenge evaluations.
Our results revealed that adopting a stress-is-enhancing mindset was indeed beneficial as it relates to
positive emotion and DHEAS secretion; participants with a stress-is-enhancing mindset experienced
greater increases in DHEAS and greater increases in positive emotions relative to those with a stress-
is-debilitating mindset in both the positive feedback (challenge) and negative feedback (threat) con-
ditions. The boost to positive emotions and DHEAS-amplifying effect of a stress-is-enhancing mindset
is particularly noteworthy as it contributes to stress management theory and practice by showing that
adaptive outcomes dont solely ensue from acknowledging a stressor as challenging, but can also
ensue from acknowledging a stressor as threatening if accompanied by an enhancing mindset. Impor-
tantly, having a stress-is-enhancing mindset may not make stressful situations feel any less emotionally
difficult (as negative affect was still high) or any less physiologically taxing (as cortisol levels were still
high). However, our resultssuggest that having a stress-is-enhancing mindset can promote physiological
thriving as evidenced by the heightened DHEAS we observed under both challenge and threat evalu-
ations. The anabolic and antiglucocorticoid effects of DHEAS (Morgan et al.,2004), particularly when com-
bined with itsability to promote physiological resilience (Charney,2004) and positive mood (Frye & Lacey,
1999), may foster resilience under stress, facilitating ones ability to endure future stressors.
With respect to cognitive responses, we found that a stress-is-enhancing mindset produced
greater attentional bias towards happy faces, and more cognitive flexibility, than a stress-is-debilitat-
ing mindset for participants receiving positive feedback (challenge evaluation). In other words,
although mindset did moderate the effects of stress differentially depending on whether challenge
or threat evaluations were evoked, the majority of the cognitive benefits of a stress-is-enhancing
mindset occurred primarily under challenge evaluations. In contrast, those with a stress-is-debilitating
mindset experienced worse cognitive flexibility and less bias to happy faces despite facing a see-
mingly manageable stressor (i.e., positive feedback). The finding that adopting a stress-is-debilitating
12 A. J. CRUM ET AL.
mindset under challenge evaluations produced similar outcomes as those under threat may help
explain why even small everyday stressors can have negative effects (McIntyre, Korn, & Matsuo,
2008), sometimes evoking worse somatic outcomes than more threatening life events (Almeida,
2005; DeLongis, Coyne, Dakof, Folkman, & Lazarus, 1982). Moreover, the amplifying cognitive flexi-
bility effect we observed of having a stress-is-enhancing mindset under challenge evaluations is par-
ticularly interesting as it is consistent with literature showing that the experience of positive emotions
can broaden individualsthoughtaction repertoires, building enduring physical, intellectual, social,
and psychological resources and producing flexible, creative, and novel thinking (Amabile,
Barsade, Mueller, & Staw, 2005; Fredrickson, 2001; Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004).
It is important to note that the interpretation of our attentional bias findings remains unclear as
there is significant debate regarding whether the dot-probe measures a heightened vigilance toward
information or an inability to disengage from information (e.g., Fox, Russo, Bowels, & Dutton, 2001; Fox,
Russo, & Dutton, 2002; Koster et al., 2004; Salemink, van den Hout, Kindt, 2007). In light of this debate,
our finding that under challenge evaluations, bias towards happy faces was significantly higher for
those with a stress-is-enhancing mindset relative to those with a stress-is-debilitating mindset
could suggest that either those in the stress-is-enhancing condition had heightened vigilance to
happy faces or couldnt disengage from happy faces. Regardless of the interpretation, our finding
nonetheless represents the concept that participants who believe stress is enhancing spend more
time attending to happy faces than those who believe stress is debilitating.
Taken together, the results of this study suggest that while having a stress-is-enhancing mindset
increased positive mood, cognitive flexibility, attention to happy faces (under challenge evaluations),
and DHEAS responses (under both threat and challenge evaluations), it did not seem to reduce nega-
tive emotional reactions to the stress in either the challenging or threatening conditions. Thus, adopt-
ing a stress-is-enhancing mindset in the face of both challenging and threatening situations may be
beneficial, not necessarily because of its ability to make the stress feel less negative or threatening,
but rather, by recruiting and magnifying cognitive, emotional, and physiological attributes that
may contribute to adaptive responses over the long-run. Importantly, these finding do not
suggest that adopting a stress-is-enhancing mindset is a panacea for all stressful situations. Under
threat, the only adaptive response we observed was the boost in DHEAS. Boosts in cognitive flexibility
and attentional bias were only found under challenge evaluations, suggesting that, whenever poss-
ible, people should still attempt to evaluate stressors as challenging (as opposed to threatening).
Moreover, the finding that there were no effects of mindset or threat vs. challenge evaluation on cor-
tisol in this study serves as an important reminder that some of the responses to stress may be inde-
pendent of both evaluations of the stressor and mindsets about the nature of stress in general.
Several additional limitations should be acknowledged and addressed in future research. First, our
stress task was designed to focus on the relative effects of mindset under threat (negative feedback)
and challenge (positive feedback) evaluations, and therefore did not include a control group (e.g., no
feedback from evaluators), which by nature would be lower arousal (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004). As a
result, our study is constrained in that we have little insight into how mindset influences challenge
and threat evaluations relative to lower arousal situations, and we cannot examine if confounding
variables related to our feedback manipulations may have affected our results. However, given
that prior research has found that the neuroendocrine, emotional, and cognitive effects of no feed-
back social stress control conditions typically fall in the middle of the effects seen in negative (threat)
and positive (challenge) feedback conditions (Akinola & Mendes, 2008; Kassam et al., 2009), and that
mindset effects under low stress engender similar neuroendocrine results as we observed in this
study (Crum et al., 2013), we can speculate that a stress-is-enhancing mindset in a lower arousal situ-
ation would produce results that were less pronounced than those in the positive (challenge) con-
dition, but more pronounced than those seen in the stress-is-debilitating mindset negative (threat)
condition. Nonetheless, future research is needed that explores the effect of mindset in lower
arousal, more ambiguous, even naturally occurring stressful situations, to better tease apart the pro-
cesses through which stress mindsets exert psychological, physiological, and behavioral effects.
Second, we explored mindset effects as they relate to acute short-term stressors. Of considerable
interest are the duration of stress mindset effects and the longitudinal sequence of emotional, cognitive,
and neuroendocrine outcomes triggered by approaching stress in a stress-is-enhancing mindset rela-
tive to a stress-is-debilitating mindset under situations of chronic stress. Third, there is evidence that
both DHEAS and cortisol have cognitive effects (Gagnon & Wagner, 2016; Het et al., 2005; Shields
et al., 2015,2016; Sripada et al., 2013), however, these cognitive effects were not observed in our
study. It is possible that the type of cognitive tasks we used in this study (alternative uses and dot
probe) may not be representative of the types of tasks that are influenced by neuroendocrine
changes, such as episodic recall tasks or measures of decision-making competence. Future studies
should consider broadening the range of cognitive tasks used to further our understanding of the
types of cognitive tasks for which stress mindset manipulations may be particularly beneficial. Finally,
as is common with laboratory research, our sample consisted of young and healthy undergraduate
and graduate students living in the United States, and did not include a no-stress control group as
we were primarily interested in the relative benefit of stress mindset in challenging and threatening con-
texts. Additional research is needed to examine whether the benefits of adopting a stress-is-enhancing
mindset extend to different populations and settings, such as among individuals with anxiety disorders,
in contexts with no stress or more extreme levels of stress, and in cultures where mindsets about stress
and anxiety are different from those in the United States (Tweed, White, & Lehman, 2004).
Stress is an undeniable part of everyday reality for most individuals. Our findings advance stress
theory by highlighting the relative benefit of stress mindset in the context of both threat and challenge
evaluations. Taken together, these results do not refute or question the powerful role of threat and
challenge evaluations in shaping the stress response. Rather, they enrich the literature by demonstrat-
ing some important nuances regarding how mindsets and evaluations interact. Specifically our results
suggest that the cognitive and affective benefits of challenge evaluations many only be present when
approached through in a stress-is-enhancing mindset and, furthermore, that a stress-is-enhancing
mindset may also help improve physiological responses in both challenging and threatening stress
by boosting DHEAS. Although much remains to be explored, these results lay the foundation for an
integrated theory demonstrating that altering general beliefs about stress can change situation-
specific stress evaluations. In doing so, this research provides a hopeful possibility that individuals
can improve their responses to stress both in the face of manageable stressors as well as in the
face of threatening stressors by adopting more enhancing mindsets about stress that are not specific
to the stressor at hand, but can generally apply to any stressful situation.
1. The videos used in this study are available upon request from the first author.
2. Participants also completed a third cognitive interference task; however, we do not report on this measure as it
not the theoretical focus of the current research.
3. Although we controlled for menstrual cycle variation in women by controlling for the time since last menstrua-
tion, we were not able to control for inevitable variation in menstrual cycles between women. That said, it is unli-
kely that such cycle variation would meaningfully affect the results given that variability in menstrual cycle is likely
randomly distributed across conditions.
4. It is important to note that although changes in cortisol were not observed in this study, the effects of mindset
and challenge/threat evaluations on cortisol responses remain unclear. There is evidence that the effects of
mindset on cortisol are moderated by individual reactivity (as compared to a baseline day) (Crum et al., 2013).
Additional research is needed to further our understanding of how cortisol responses may be differentially
altered depending the person, their mindset, and the context.
We thank Safiya Castel, Chris Crew, Jihyeon Kim, Asia McCleary-Gaddy, Brandon Rude, and Yael Warach for their help
conducting the studies and Adam Galinsky, Jeremy Jameison, Karim Kassam, Wendy Berry Mendes, Jeanne Tsai, and
Ting Zhang for their comments on this manuscript.
14 A. J. CRUM ET AL.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
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... Additionally, challenge appraisals are related to lower levels of depression (Mak et al., 2004), positive affect (Chadha et al., 2019), and individuals who adopt challenge appraisals are more likely to mobilise increased energy for action (Carenzo et al., 2020), consistent with vitality (Lavrusheva, 2020 Despite their similarities in being associated with cognitions of stressful situations, distinctions exist between the concepts of stress mindset and challenge and threat appraisals (Crum et al., 2013). Stress mindset theory focuses on metacognitive beliefs about the nature of stress in general, and disregards contextual information about specific stressors (Crum et al., 2017). In contrast, appraisals are concerned with cognitive evaluations of stressors, which may be in relation to general appraisal styles (e.g., Cumming et al., 2017) or those of specific events (Kilby and Sherman, 2016). ...
... In contrast, appraisals are concerned with cognitive evaluations of stressors, which may be in relation to general appraisal styles (e.g., Cumming et al., 2017) or those of specific events (Kilby and Sherman, 2016). Therefore, adopting a 'stress-isenhancing' mindset is not a guarantee of enhancing challenge appraisal tendencies, but adopting this mindset may contribute to cognitive, emotional, and behavioural responses that are adaptive when faced with stressful situations (Crum et al., 2017). However, due to their similarities, beliefs about the nature of stress (e.g., stress mindset) are thought to relate to the appraisals of specific stressful situations as a challenge or a threat (Jamieson et al., 2018). ...
... A higher value reflects that an individual possesses a more 'stress-is-enhancing' mindset. The SMM-G has been used in other similar studies (e.g., Mansell, 2021) and has been reported to produce valid and reliable stress mindset scores (Crum et al., 2017). The present study demonstrated good internal reliability using Cronbach alpha's coefficient (0.82). ...
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Objective Stress is ubiquitous and how individuals view the nature of stress can influence psychological wellbeing. The present study aimed to investigate the mediating role of proactive coping on the relationships between stress mindset and challenge appraisal tendencies and examine how this in turn related to psychological wellbeing. A secondary aim was to investigate if there were any differences in stress mindset between athletes and non-athletes. It was hypothesised that stress mindset would be indirectly positively associated with challenge appraisal tendencies through proactive coping, that a challenge appraisal tendency would positively relate to vitality, and that vitality would negatively relate to depressive symptoms. It was also hypothesised that athletes would possess more facilitative views of stress compared with non-athletes. Methods Two hundred and seven individuals ( n = 101 athletes, n = 106 non-athletes, M age = 22.76 years, SD = 4.94) completed an online questionnaire pack assessing stress mindset, proactive coping, challenge appraisal tendencies, vitality, and depressive symptoms. Results Using path analysis, the hypothesised model demonstrated a good fit to the data and the positive relationship between stress mindset and challenge appraisal tendencies was mediated by proactive coping. Challenge appraisal tendencies were positively associated with vitality, which was negatively associated with depressive symptoms. Athletes reported a significantly greater ‘stress-is-enhancing’ mindset, greater vitality, and fewer depressive symptoms than non-athletes. Conclusion Findings offer support for the role that stress mindset has in potentially influencing psychological wellbeing and offer the novel suggestion that this mechanism may operate through proactive coping and challenge appraisal tendencies.
... .] or holds the belief that stress has debilitating consequences" [13: p.716]. Unlike appraisals which evaluate the valence and intensity of stress felt in a specific time and context, stress mindset is a meta-cognitive belief about the nature and outcomes of stress [23]. Stress mindset is also distinct from seemingly similar personality dimensions, such as positive and negative affectivity, in that while these dimensions are distinct and orthogonal [24], positive and negative stress mindsets are the opposing boundaries of a continuum of beliefs about stress and its outcomes. ...
... Stressors evaluated as challenges improve thriving, positive affect, and approach motivation, in addition to cognitive performance and flexibility [23]. Challenges, being more controllable than hindrances, also facilitate goal pursuit by offering opportunities to satisfy achievement needs and contribute to health and wellbeing. ...
... They also frustrate basic needs like competence, autonomy, and relatedness and, consequently, impede goal achievement [28]. Moreover, they are negatively associated with wellbeing and are linked to cognitive deterioration and negative affect [23]. Employees appraising stressors as hindrances are less likely to invest in their job [27], which ought them to be less engaged. ...
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This paper explains the contradictory findings on the relationship between stress and work engagement by including appraisals as a driving mechanism through which job stressors influence engagement. In doing so, it explores whether stressors categorised as either challenging or hindering can be appraised simultaneously as both. Second, it investigates whether stress mindset explains not only how stressors are appraised, but also how appraisals influence engagement. Over five workdays, 487 Canadian and American full-time employees indicated their stress mindset and appraised numerous challenging and hindering stressors, after which they self-reported their engagement at work. Results showed that employees rarely appraised stress as uniquely challenging or hindering. Moreover, when employees harbored positive views about stress, stressors overall were evaluated as less hindering and hindrance stressors were particularly more challenging. Stress mindset appears to be critical in modulating the genesis of stress appraisals. In turn, appraisals explained the stressor-engagement relationship, with challenge and hindrance stressors boosting and hampering engagement, respectively. Finally, positive stress mindset buffered the negative effect of hindrance appraisals on engagement. Our findings clarify misconceptions about how workplace stressors impact engagement and offer novel evidence that stress mindset is a key factor in stress at work.
... Accordingly, we pay attention to a particular type of anxiety caused by COVID-19 and propose: positive impacts on various stress-related outcomes, such as health, well-being, learning, and growth (Crum et al., 2013). An increasing amount of studies are connecting stress mindset to how to cope and react to psychological stress (e.g., Crum et al., 2017;Kilby & Sherman, 2016). For example, Crum et al. (2013) demonstrated that individuals with stress-is-enhancing mindset reported fewer symptoms of emotional problems, such as anxiety, than those with stressis-debilitating mindset. ...
... The current study found that stress-is-enhancing mindset buffered the deleterious effects of COVID-19 event disruption and criticality. Scholars have noted that stress mindset may be linked with coping behaviors and psychological stress responses (Crum et al., 2013(Crum et al., , 2017Kilby & Sherman, 2016). If one holds stress-is-enhancing mindset, they are more likely to maintain the optimistic arousal needed to achieve goal and meet demand when under stress, but not debilitating emotions and mental health in long term (Crum et al., 2013). ...
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Previous research on the impact of COVID-19 has mainly focused on the coronavirus and its medical consequences. However, the psychological and behavioral consequences of the pandemic have received little empirical attention. By integrating event system theory with stressor-emotion model, we propose that COVID-19 event strength (novelty, disruption, and criticality) influences students’ COVID-19 anxiety and in turn, online deviant behavior. We also examined stress-is-enhancing mindset as the boundary condition to alleviate such harmful effects. Results from a three-wave lagged survey of college students indicated that students’ perceived COVID-19 event disruption and criticality (but not novelty) were positively related to COVID-19 anxiety, which in turn had a positive impact on online deviant behaviors. Moreover, stress-is-enhancing mindset mitigated the effects of COVID-19 event disruption and criticality (but not novelty) on anxiety and the indirect impact on online deviant behavior via anxiety. Our study underlines the value of an event-oriented theory-building approach to deeply understand online deviant behavior in COVID-19 context.
... These are common themes in advice from advisors. However they are generally not what research on stress shows is helpful or what might be most appropriate given the context 21,22 . The LLM seems to have acquired a stress-is-debilitating mindset 23 -the notion that stress always harms performance and health. ...
... This mindset is contradicted by research that emphasizes the importance of understanding the potentially enhancing role of stress. That is, the body's stress response keeps people alive by helping to mobilize energy for performance (for example, getting more oxygenated blood to brains and muscles) 21,22 . ...
Large language models (LLMs), such as OpenAI's GPT-4, Google's Bard or Meta's LLaMa, have created unprecedented opportunities for analysing and generating language data on a massive scale. Because language data have a central role in all areas of psychology, this new technology has the potential to transform the field. In this Perspective, we review the foundations of LLMs. We then explain how the way that LLMs are constructed enables them to effectively generate human-like linguistic output without the ability to think or feel like a human. We argue that although LLMs have the potential to advance psychological measurement, experimentation and practice, they are not yet ready for many of the most transformative psychological applications-but further research and development may enable such use. Next, we examine four major concerns about the application of LLMs to psychology, and how each might be overcome. Finally, we conclude with recommendations for investments that could help to address these concerns: field-initiated 'keystone' datasets; increased standardization of performance benchmarks; and shared computing and analysis infrastructure to ensure that the future of LLM-powered research is equitable.
... Moreover, all mental (i.e., emotional and cognitive) processes have their physiological correlates, and mental and physiological processes mutually influence each other [19]. It might thus be adequate to conceptualize allostatic load as a risk factor for health consequences in a broader sense, which entails both mental and physical aspects that are closely coupled and affect one another (e.g., [20]). Such a conceptualization aligns well with suggested clinical criteria for the assessment of allostatic overload, which include both psychosocial and physical symptoms [8]. ...
Imagery has been associated with cardiovascular and psychological responses to stress; however, the mechanisms underlying this association are not fully understood. The present study examined if the ability to image mastering challenging or difficult situations moderated the relationship between heart rate reactivity and perceptions of stress and physiological arousal experienced during acute stress. Four hundred and fifty‐eight participants completed a standardized laboratory stress protocol with heart rate being measured throughout. After completing an acute psychological stress task, participants rated how stressed and physiologically aroused they felt (i.e., intensity) and whether they perceived the stress and physiological arousal as being helpful/unhelpful to performance (i.e., interpretation). Mastery imagery ability was assessed by questionnaire. Moderation analyses controlling for gender demonstrated that imagery ability moderated the relationship between heart rate reactivity and interpretation of stress ( β = 0.015, p = .003) and perceived physiological arousal ( β = 0.013, p = .004). Simple slope analysis indicated that in those with higher imagery ability, heart rate reactivity was associated with stress and arousal being perceived as more positive toward performance. Imagery ability did not moderate the relationship between heart rate reactivity and perceived stress intensity or physiological arousal intensity ( p's > .05), but imagery ability did predict lower perceived stress intensity ( β = −0.217, p < .001) and perceived physiological arousal intensity ( β = −0.172, p < .001). Higher mastery imagery ability may possibly help individuals perceive responses to stress as more beneficial for performance and thus be an effective coping technique.
One view of the trajectory of human evolution is that it has involved greater and greater levels of cooperation to tackle the problems with which humanity is presented (Stewart, Bio Systems 198, 2020).
This study developed the “Beliefs about Difficult Experiences Scale” consisting of two subscales: “beneficial beliefs” that difficult experiences have beneficial consequences and “harmful beliefs” that difficult experiences have harmful consequences. The participants were university students and working adults. They responded to three surveys. We selected items for developing the scale after ensuring their content validity. The study’s results demonstrated the scale’s generalizability (internal consistency and temporal stability). Also, the goodness of fit of the scale’s two-factor model was adequate, confirming the structural validity of the scale. In addition, we examined the associations between this scale and (a) theoretically related external variables, (b) goal pursuit behavior when goal attainment is difficult, and (c) time spent working on difficult tasks. The results showed the expected associations, confirming the scale’s external validity. Finally, we have discussed prospects for future research using this scale.
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From W. B. Cannon’s identification of adrenaline with “fight or flight” to modern views of stress, negative views of peripheral physiological arousal predominate. Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) arousal is associated with anxiety, neuroticism, the Type A personality, cardiovascular disease, and immune system suppression; illness susceptibility is associated with life events requiring adjustments. “Stress control” has become almost synonymous with arousal reduction. A contrary positive view of peripheral arousal follows from studies of subjects exposed to intermittent stressors. Such exposure leads to low SNS arousal base rates, but to strong and responsive challenge- or stress-induced SNS-adrenal-medullary arousal, with resistance to brain catecholamine depletion and with suppression of pituitary adrenal-cortical responses. That pattern of arousal defines physiological toughness and, in interaction with psychological coping, corresponds with positive performance in even complex tasks, with emotional stability, and with immune system enhancement. The toughness concept suggests an opposition between effective short- and long-term coping, with implications for effective therapies and stress-inoculating life-styles.
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The hormone cortisol is often believed to play a pivotal role in the effects of stress on human cognition. This meta-analysis is an attempt to determine the effects of acute cortisol administration on core executive functions. Drawing on both rodent and stress literatures, we hypothesized that acute cortisol administration would impair working memory and set-shifting but enhance inhibition. Additionally, because cortisol is thought to exert different nongenomic (rapid) and genomic (slow) effects, we further hypothesized that the effects of cortisol would differ as a function of the delay between cortisol administration and cognitive testing. Although the overall analyses were nonsignificant, after separating the rapid, nongenomic effects of cortisol from the slower, genomic effects of cortisol, the rapid effects of cortisol enhanced response inhibition, g(+)=0.113, p=.016, but impaired working memory, g(+)=-0.315, p=.008, although these effects reversed over time. Contrary to our hypotheses, there was no effect of cortisol administration on set-shifting. Thus, although we did not find support for the idea that increases in cortisol influence set-shifting, we found that acute increases in cortisol exert differential effects on working memory and inhibition over time. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Epidemiological and animal studies often find that higher social status is associated with better physical health outcomes, but these findings are by design correlational and lack mediational explanations. In two studies, we examine neurobiological reactivity to test the hypothesis that higher social status leads to salutary short-term psychological, physiological, and behavioral responses. In Study 1, we measured police officers’ subjective social status and had them engage in a stressful task during which we measured cardiovascular and neuroendocrine reactivity. In Study 2, we manipulated social status and examined physiological reactivity and performance outcomes to explore links among status, performance, and physiological reactivity. Results indicated that higher social status (whether measured or manipulated) was associated with approach-oriented physiology (Studies 1 and 2) and better performance (Study 2) relative to lower status. These findings point to acute reactivity as one possible causal mechanism to better physical health among those higher in social status.
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The efficacy of academic-mind-set interventions has been demonstrated by small-scale, proof-of-concept interventions, generally delivered in person in one school at a time. Whether this approach could be a practical way to raise school achievement on a large scale remains unknown. We therefore delivered brief growth-mind-set and sense-of-purpose interventions through online modules to 1,594 students in 13 geographically diverse high schools. Both interventions were intended to help students persist when they experienced academic difficulty; thus, both were predicted to be most beneficial for poorly performing students. This was the case. Among students at risk of dropping out of high school (one third of the sample), each intervention raised students' semester grade point averages in core academic courses and increased the rate at which students performed satisfactorily in core courses by 6.4 percentage points. We discuss implications for the pipeline from theory to practice and for education reform. © The Author(s) 2015.
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In this article, the author describes a new theoretical perspective on positive emotions and situates this new perspective within the emerging field of positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory posits that experiences of positive emotions broaden people's momentary thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources. Preliminary empirical evidence supporting the broaden-and-build theory is reviewed, and open empirical questions that remain to be tested are identified. The theory and findings suggest that the capacity to experience positive emotions may be a fundamental human strength central to the study of human flourishing.
Episodic retrieval allows people to access memories from the past to guide current thoughts and decisions. In many real-world situations, retrieval occurs under conditions of acute stress, either elicited by the retrieval task or driven by other, unrelated concerns. Memory under such conditions may be hindered, as acute stress initiates a cascade of neuromodulatory changes that can impair episodic retrieval. Here, we review emerging evidence showing that dissociable stress systems interact over time, influencing neural function. In addition to the adverse effects of stress on hippocampal-dependent retrieval, we consider how stress biases attention and prefrontal cortical function, which could further affect controlled retrieval processes. Finally, we consider recent data indicating that stress at retrieval increases activity in a network of brain regions that enable reflexive, rapid responding to upcoming threats, while transiently taking offline regions supporting flexible, goal-directed thinking. Given the ubiquity of episodic memory retrieval in everyday life, it is critical to understand the theoretical and applied implications of acute stress. The present review highlights the progress that has been made, along with important open questions.
Objective: Most research on the effects of severe psychological stress has focused on stress-related psychopathology. Here, the author develops psychobiological models of resilience to extreme stress. Method: An integrative model of resilience and vulnerability that encompasses the neurochemical response patterns to acute stress and the neural mechanisms mediating reward, fear conditioning and extinction, and social behavior is proposed. Results: Eleven possible neurochemical, neuropeptide, and hormonal mediators of the psychobiological response to extreme stress were identified and related to resilience or vulnerability. The neural mechanisms of reward and motivation (hedonia, optimism, and learned helpfulness), fear responsiveness (effective behaviors despite fear), and adaptive social behavior (altruism, bonding, and teamwork) were found to be relevant to the character traits associated with resilience. Conclusions: The opportunity now exists to bring to bear the full power of advances in our understan...
Citizens complete a survey the day before a major election; a change in the survey items' grammatical structure increases turnout by 11 percentage points. People answer a single question; their romantic relationships improve over several weeks. At-risk students complete a 1-hour reading-and-writing exercise; their grades rise and their health improves for the next 3 years. Each statement may sound outlandishmore science fiction than science. Yet each represents the results of a recent study in psychological science (respectively, Bryan, Walton, Rogers, & Dweck, 2011; Marigold, Holmes, & Ross, 2007, 2010; Walton & Cohen, 2011). These studies have shown, more than one might have thought, that specific psychological processes contribute to major social problems. These processes act as levers in complex systems that give rise to social problems. Precise interventions that alter themwhat I call wise interventionscan produce significant benefits and do so over time. What are wise interventions? How do they work? And how can they help solve social problems?
The study investigated the time course of attentional biases for emotional facial expressions in high and low trait anxious individuals. Threat, happy, and neutral face stimuli were presented at two exposure durations, 500 and 1250msec, in a forced-choice reaction time (RT) version of the dot probe task. There was clear evidence of an attentional bias favouring threatening facial expressions, but not emotional faces in general, in high trait anxiety. Increased dysphoria was associated with a tendency to avoid happy faces. No evidence was found of avoidance following initial vigilance for threat in this nonclinical sample. Methodological and theoretical implications of the results are discussed.