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Stress labs

In human stress research, there are several paradigms known to reliably induce moderate acute physiological stress responses. These paradigms are thus capable of activating the stress-responsive sympatho-adrenal-medullary (SAM) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axes. Of these, the HPA axis requires more intense stimulation and ego threat before a significant increase in corticotropin-releasing hormone, adrenocorticotropin hormone, or cortisol occurs than SAM axis activation (e.g., in terms of heart rate) does. Even though deliberate stress activation of the human HPA axis is quite difficult under ethically acceptable laboratory conditions, the stress labs are designed to do so using state of the art psychosocial stress tests and variations of the so-called cold pressor test (CPT). This way, researchers can address important issues such as how stress exposure and the ensuing hormonal changes affect memory performance.

Stress lab 1 contains the equipment to run the CPT (i.e., a custom-made device consisting of a water container, a cooler to maintain a constant water temperature, and a fan to achieve a flow of the water. In stress lab 2, specific equipment used in psychosocial stress test (e.g., audiovisual recording) can be found. Of course, each stress lab is also equipped with a computer to run all sorts of experimental tasks. The computers and cameras are linked to software in order to observe, score and categorise behaviour during the stress tests.

Although called stress labs, the research carried out in these labs does not necessarily have to be stress-related. Sure enough, the main focus of the research in stress labs has to do with eliciting stress responses and relating them to, for example, resilience, personality traits or memory performance. However, another type of study that is conducted in the stress lab is pain related. Specifically, the CPT is not only known to induce reliable stress responses, but is also a widely used, low-risk technique in medical research to expose participants to a painful condition. Individual differences in pain perception and how to cope with pain are good examples of topics in pain research topics that are addressed by researchers interested in pain.
Last modified: Fri, 07/10/2016 - 12:26

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