Coping with Uncertainty: Behavioral and Developmental Perspectives

By David S. Palermo; Center for the Study of Child and Adolescent Development | Go to book overview

6
Coping With Uncertainty: New Models of the Relations Between Hormonal, Behavioral, and Cognitive Processes

Megan Gunnar Denny Marvinney Jill Isensee The Institute of Child Development University of Minnesota

Robert O. Fisch Department of Pediatrics University of Minnesota

Philosophers of science have long been concerned with what constitutes an adequate disconfirmation of a theory or hypothesis ( Kuhn, 1970). The history of science provides no easy answers. In some instances those who have championed an hypothesis in the face of disconfirming evidence have later been vindicated; in other instances they have not ( Feyerabend, 1970; Popper, 1972). I am concerned here with the hypothesis that emotional distress or emotional arousal triggers the activation of the adrenocortical system. This hypothesis has been the basis of an enormous amount of research in the past several decades (see reviews by Gunnar, 1986a; Hennessy & Levine, 1979; Mason, 1959, 1968; Rose, 1980; Tennes & Mason, 1982). It developed out of studies that suggested that psychological factors serve as the final common pathway in what Selye had initially believed was a neuroendocrine nonspecific response to noxious stimulation ( Mason, 1959). In this work, novelty, unpredictability, and strangeness were found to be common elements in stressful situations and it was argued that these variables activated the adrenocortical system via their effects on emotional state. Reviewing decades of research, Tennes and Mason ( 1982) concluded that "emotions have been established as a primary determinant of endocrine activity in human adults" (p. 21). Other reviewers, have echoed this conclusion ( Frankenhaeuser, 1980; Gunnar, 1986a; Ursin, Baade, & Levine, 1978). Hennessy and Levine ( 1979) offered a somewhat different view, one that equated activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis with arousal. However, whether arousal or emotional distress, the expectation clearly has been

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