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REDUCTION OF STRESS IN HUMANS THROUGH NONVERIDICAL PERCEIVED CONTROL OF AVERSIVE STIMULATION
JAMES H. GEER,' GERALD C. DAVISON
State University of New York at Stony Brook
ROBERT I. GATCHEL
University of Wisconsin, .Madison
In a reaction time (RT) task 40 subjects were told to react to the onset of a 6-second shock. Following l0 trials, half of thesubjects were told that by decreasing their RT they would reduce shock duration. Remaining subjects were simply told that shock duration would he reduced. All subjects, regardless of group assignment or RT, received 3-second shocks in the second half of the study. During the second half of the study, subjects who believed they had control showed fewer spontaneous skin conductance (SC) responsesand smaller SC responses to shock onset than subjects who did not feel they had control. Results indicated that perception of
research and implications of the results are included.
Recent years have seen increasing attention ble and perhaps more interesting, namely, that the experimental arrangements achieve their paid by experimental psychologists to a problem area notwell integrated into learning stress-reducing effects through the induction theory, namely, the stressfulness of aversive of the belief in the subject that he can affect stimuli as a function of the degree to which the favorably the amount of stress to which he is subject can control their onset and/or offset. to be subjected. While this suggestion raises The classic study by Mowrer and Viek (1948)considerable epistemological problems in the remained for about 20 years the first and only case of rats, such issues seem more manageable experiment on the issue. It will be recalled when dealing with humans (others have been from this study that rats who were trained to more intrepid philosophically, vide Festinger's, escape shock% by performing an instrumental 1961, discussion of cognitivedissonance in rats). response reacted in the same situation less If one shifts the focus from the experifearfully than yoked controls, whose shocks menter's operations to the subject's percepwere not influenced by their own behavior. tions, it seems possible that the latter need not In a recent article, Seligman, Maier, and be isomorphic to the former. That is, perhaps Solomon (in press) reviewed thisand other the already demonstrated stress-reducing efstudies which, taken as a whole, indicate the fects of subject-control can be demonstrated important role that subject control of aversive when subject's believe incorrectly that they can events plays in determining how stressful the effectively reduce the duration and/or intensity stimuli will be. of aversive stimulation. A strong test of thePerhaps because the hulk of the experimental hypothesis that it is the perception by the work has been restricted to subhuman species, subject rather than the arrangement by the the focus has been entirely on the experimental experimenter which is the crucial factor would arrangement of events, namely, "These con- be to create the perception of effective concepts are defined by experimenter'sarrangetrol in human subjects where there really is ment of experimental events, not in terms of none. subject's perception of them. [Seligman et. at., This was done in the following experiment. in press]. " There is at least one alternative Forty male volunteer college-student subjects explanation, however, which is logically possi- underwent pretreatment and posttreatment threshold tests withelectric shock. Part I of the 1 Requests for reprints should be sent to James H. study was identical for all subjects; during 10 Geer, Department of Psychology, State University of trials they pressed a reaction switch as soon as New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York they first felt shock. This shock lasted 6 seconds 11790.
J. H. GEER, G. C. DAVISON, AND R. J. GATCHEL