Implicit understanding of stress and illness in a sample of 5-11 year olds: novel application of an experimental approach

T Cheetham, J M Turner-Cobb, T Gamble

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Staging theories have been used to explain children’s understanding of various concepts including those relating to health. Yet the extent to which children understand the concept of stress and are able to make associations between stress and physical illness has rarely been explored. The aim of this study was to investigate young children’s understanding of the stress-health relationship and to identify from what age this understanding is evident. Methods: An experimental measure of implicit understanding, adapted for use with children, was applied to the concepts of stress and illness. Thirty-two children aged 5-11 years completed the child Implicit Association Test (PSIAT), a computer-based measure of reaction time (RT) to associated (stress and illness) and unassociated (stress and health) concept pairings. This was analysed using MANOVA. Findings: Significantly faster correct responses to consistent concept pairings than to inconsistent concept pairings were observed as age increased, F(3, 28) = 3.27, p<.01. Within age groups, a significant RT difference was detected between consistent and inconsistent pairings from age 7.5 years, indicating this as a pivotal age for the ability to associate stress and illness. Differences were noted in the younger age groups but significant effects were not observed. Discussion: Whilst associations between stress and illness increased with age, findings support the notion that children as young as 7.5 years were able to make a link between the concept of stress and feeling unwell. These theoretical constructs are important in developing appropriate interventions to promote health by supporting children in learning to identify and cope with stress.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013
EventDivision of Health Psychology Annual Conference 2013 - Brighton, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Sept 201313 Sept 2013


ConferenceDivision of Health Psychology Annual Conference 2013
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom


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