Student Stress Exposure: A Daily Path Perspective on the Connections among Cognition, Place, and the Socioenvironment
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Few health studies of psychological stress have examined individual socio-environmental stressors in the field at a daily path scale. An individual's conception of a stressful experience is inextricably linked to the process of cognitive appraisals, which are the meanings assigned to social situations and environments. Directly assessing individual stress exposures in the field as they are experienced requires mobile measures that are people-based, rather than using place- or activity-based proxies. The integration of time geography and psychology's theory of daily hassles/uplifts allow for the measurement of stressors from a geographic perspective. This study advances research on socio-environmental health exposures by (1) focusing on measuring a cognitive health exposure; (2) using mobile methods to acquire quantitative and qualitative field data; and (3) geo-referencing physiological responses to examine daily path patterns and commonalities in stress exposure. In this study, spatiotemporal paths linked with physiological measurement are combined with individual narratives on stress, place, and social situations to examine socio-environmental factors that influence stress exposures. Mobile measurement tools include wristwatch Global Positioning System (GPS) units with synched heart rate monitors and digital audio recorders. Stress as operationalized in this study is a negative cognitive appraisal and related physiological reaction to internal dialogues and the surrounding socio-environment assessed through heart rate reactivity (HRR) and individual accounts. Measuring geographically referenced physiological responses and personal accounts is a novel field approach that captures the acute stressful episodes that are a part of daily life. Results show that there is a difference between measuring stress through a static metric like the Student-Life Stress Inventory (SSI) and assessing stress with mobile self-report and monitored measures. The negative correlation between HRR and SSI total score appears to highlight the divide between fundamentally different measurement methods for stress exposures; active versus passive. Regardless of the relation with previous psychometrics the mobile measures used in this research produced a 75 percent concordance between the participants self-reported stress episodes and monitored heart rate (HR) logs. HRR episodes that build in intensity and then ebb toward the end are more common than those that have an abrupt beginning and ending point. The incorporation of ethnographic audio diaries and the participant survey provided insight about the influence of academic pressures on socio-environmental contexts relating to stress experiences.
Williams, Nikki (2012). Student Stress Exposure: A Daily Path Perspective on the Connections among Cognition, Place, and the Socioenvironment. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from