Psychosocial stress, physical health and self-conscious emotions in adulthood: an exploration of the feasibility of distinguishing between ancient and modern stressors

  • Evangelos Katsampouris

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Background: Extensive research has highlighted the impact of psychosocial stressors on coping, physical health, and emotions. A novel conceptualisation of this is the distinction between ancient and modern stressors; the idea that established adaptive psychophysiological coping processes exist enabling individuals to cope with ancient stressors whilst being less able to cope with modern stressors. Such a distinction could be observed in differential effects on stress responses and common cold symptoms via allostatic processes. The emotions of shame and guilt have also been distinguishable by their adaptive coping profile and have been associated with increased stress reactivity.

Aim: The overall aim of this research programme was to assess the feasibility of distinguishing between ancient and modern stressors within a health context from a psychological perspective. This focus enabled a fuller understanding of psychosocial stress and identified stressors that might have the most deleterious effect on health.

Methods: This research employed mixed methods; sequential, quantitative, multiphase designs across three studies. Studies one and two utilised quantitative and qualitative methods (questionnaires, interviews) with younger and older adults. Study three employed an experimental design (computer-based implicit task) and utilised quantitative methods with adults.

Main findings: Study one identified psychological characteristics enabling a provisional ancient/modern stressor distinction and that younger adults were more likely to express shame associated with ancient than modern stressors. Study two confirmed this distinction based on these characteristics and found that older adults reported both shame and guilt across ancient and modern stressors. It also found associations between modern stressors and common cold symptoms. Study three identified that the distinction between ancient and modern stressors in adults was present at an implicit level of consciousness and an explicit level of cognition.

Conclusion: This research programme provides evidence to support the feasibility of an ancient versus modern distinction in stress categorisation. Younger to older adults appear to be better able to cope with stressors designated as ancient and less able to cope with more modern stressors. Individuals’ perceptions and coping resources make a stressor moving along an ancient/modern continuum depending on its characteristics. Findings have important health implications when examining the effects of different types of stressors.
Date of Award3 Apr 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJulie Barnett (Supervisor), Rachel Arnold (Supervisor) & Julie Turner-Cobb (Supervisor)

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