Models of Stress – talk by Dr. Morena Danieli

Models of Stress
Speaker: Dr. Morena Danieli
Date: Friday, March 23, 2012
Time: 12:00 noon
Place: aula Matematica, Via di Sommarive 14, Povo, Trento, Italy
In the psychological sciences the concept of stress is widely used to describe a variety of reactions that accompany living beings’ coping with challenging situations. The humans’ stress responses prepare their bodies to meet threatening events: when a stimulus is detected and interpreted by the brain as potentially dangerous, it elicits a stereotypic response that includes increased vigilance, autonomic activation, affective immobility, and a global catabolic state. The physical emergences of that massive arousal of the central nervous system determine some typical variations in the homeostasis of the organism, such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased strength of skeletal muscles, and increased sugar and fat levels in the blood. That very archaic alarm response is not negative per se, but there is wide consensus on the thesis that a prolonged or intense state of stress can sometimes lead to disease.
How does a physiological process happen to become a potential source of disease? Since the mid of the last century a variety of lay and scientific conceptualizations of the stress process have been proposed, some of which will be reviewed in this talk. In particular, we will concentrate on the pioneering stress theory of Seyle, who identified the General Adaptation Syndrome, a kind of response-based model. Then we will discuss Lazarus’s transactional model, and finally we will report briefly on some recent neuroscience developments in the field. The latter highlight the role of the limbic system in integrating and interpreting stress-related and homeostatic information.
Although stress may be associated with mental and physical illness, many individuals cope well with it. The stress resilience has been focus of investigation as well, leading to the individuation of a variety of effective and less effective coping strategies, including cognitive restructuring, problem solving, denial, avoidance, ruminations, etc… Researchers argue that how subjects deal with stress can amplify or reduce the adverse effects of stressors. Many studies have shown that coping is a complex process, influenced by personality structure, situational demands, and socio-cultural requirements, but at present there is little consensus about how to conceptualize or measure the central concept, i.e. the way of coping. It is likely that for translating the research results into therapeutic guidelines, it would be necessary to integrate biological considerations, psychological factors, and environmental and social variables into a unified theoretical model of coping.
Morena Danieli is a neuropsychologist (University of Trieste) and psychotherapist. Her previous education included the “laurea” degree in Philosophy of Language (University of Torino), and the specialization in Computational Linguistics (University of Geneva).
Since 1985 she has been Investigator and Principal Investigator in the field of spoken dialogue, natural language processing, and speech synthesis. Her work developed in the research and development teams of CSELT, Olivetti, and Loquendo. She served as Professor of Computational Linguistics for five academic years (2005 – 2010, University of Torino). At present, she is member of the Natural Language Processing R&D Labs of Nuance Communications, and neuropsychologist and psychotherapist in private practice.
Her current research interests include the vocal expression of emotions, issues related to the psychoanalytic psychotherapy of the borderline personality disorder, and integrated models of stress coping.

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