Animal Psychopathology - Behavioral Disorders - Stress


Sapolsky has extensively studied baboons in their natural environment in the Serengeti in Africa. He noticed that baboons have very similar hierarchies in their society as do humans. They spend very few hours searching for food and fulfilling their primary needs leaving them with time to develop their social network. In primates mental stresses show up in the body. Primates experience psychological stresses that can elicit physiological responses that overtime can make them sick. Sapolsky observed the baboon's ranks, personalities and social affiliations then collected blood samples of the baboons to control the cortisol (stress hormone) levels of the baboons then matched social position to cortisol levels. Most of the data have been collected from male baboons because at any given time 80 percent of the females were pregnant. Three factors influenced a baboon's cortisol levels; friendships, perspective and rank. Baboons that played with infants and cultivated friendships, could tell if a situation was a real threat and could tell if they were going to win or loose, and were top ranking had lower levels of Cortisol. Cortisol levels rise with age and hippocampal cells express fewer hormone receptors on their surface to protect themselves from excess, making it harder to control stress levels. Cortisol levels are elevated in half of people suffering from major depression, it is the hippocampal region that is affected by both. Stress can have negative effects on gastrointestinal function causing ulcers, and it can also decrease sex drive, effect sleeping patterns and elevate blood pressure but it can also stimulate and motivate. When animals experience stress they are generally more alert than when they are not stressed. It may help them be better aware of unfamiliar environments and possible threats to their life in these environments. Yerkes and Dodson developed a law that explains the empirical relationship between arousal and performance illustrated by and inverted U-shape graph. According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law performance increases as does cognitive arousal but only to a certain point. The downward part of the U-shape is caused by stress and as stress increases so does efficiency and performance but to a certain point. When stress becomes too great performance and efficiency decline. Sapolsky has also studied stress in rats and his results indicate that early experiences in young rats have strong, lasting effects. Rats that were exposed to human handling (stressful situation) had finely tuned stress responses that may have lowered their lifetime exposure to stress hormones compared to those that were not handled. In short stress can be adaptive. The more exposure to stressful situations the better the rat can handle that situation.

Read more about this topic:  Animal Psychopathology, Behavioral Disorders

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