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Chapter 4. Cultivating Awareness > Stress Hardiness Attitudes

Stress Hardiness Attitudes

Kobasa discovered three attitudes that these people all shared and that appeared to make them resistant to the negative effects of stress. She called these three attitudes stress hardiness attitudes because individuals who possess them appear to be “stress-hardy,” that is, capable of dealing effectively with stressors. These three attitudes are control, commitment, and challenge. They are also referred to as the three C's of stress hardiness (Kobasa, 1979).

Control

Let's take a look at the first attitude, control. Stress-hardy individuals believe that they are in control of their lives, rather than that stressors have control over them. They recognize that they have resources and options that allow them to influence events in their lives. Although stress-hardy individuals recognize that they may not always have direct control over the actual onset or occurrence of an event, they certainly have control over their own response to the stressor. And this is not only true of humans, but also true of such higher life forms as rats. For example, let's hypothetically place two rats in cages capable of delivering an electroshock to their unsuspecting paws. (Psychologists do, indeed, do this and other perhaps less kindly things to these animals. That is why our standing as a profession is rather low in the rat community!) Using what is known in experimental psychology as a yoked research design, both rats are then shocked simultaneously at various intervals. One rat has a lever available in its cage that if pressed will discontinue the shock. The second rat has no such escape opportunity. When the first rat presses the lever, it stops the shock for both rats. This assures that both rats are exposed to the same level and intensity of the shock, but only the first rat has control over discontinuing the stressful event. Can you guess what happens? The first rat, the one with control, is minimally, if at all affected by the series of shocks. The second, “helpless” rat, on the other hand, suffers negatively, developing multiple psychosomatic symptoms such as ulcers.


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