Monday, February 10, 2014

First Reader: Chapter 13

This chapter was primarily dedicated to briefly explaining the endocrine system, factors that cause stress and the result from too much stress. This text piqued my interest because I’m in a prime environment to feel the effects of stress being a pre-med college student, which I fear is already taking a toll on my body. I have had high blood pressure due to stress before, and had to do a complete 180 on my lifestyle to help lower it. With all the seemingly negative effects of stress in humans, made me raise the question whether or not there is some evolutionary advantage to stress. There was a passage which explained how that when a zebra is chased by a lion, its “fight or flight” response is engaged and it begins to produce hormones, but once the zebra is safe, its parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and calms down the body. I don’t think we have this luxury as humans. The zebras have the ability to turn the stress-response off almost immediately, while humans tend to dwell on experiences which keep us stressed out and producing hormones. If heart disease is one of the major causes of death, and stress causes heart disease, is the stress-response system really evolutionarily advantageous to humans?


  1. I found your post to be quite thought-provoking. I haven’t questioned why zebras are able to switch so easily out of their sympathetic states up until this point. I guess at this moment, I recall to mind one of the lectures from one of the past couple of weeks. Humans, like all animals, acquire certain traits throughout the evolution of our selves. I guess the term “evolution” immediately suggests that something is undergoing a transformation from a “lesser, more inferior” model to one that is superior, more powerful than its predecessor. However, that is not the case with the animal kingdom. We change over time, but not always for the better. We are undeniably flawed in more ways than one. I don’t mean to say that our stress-response system is disadvantageous, but it does in fact appear to be a “trade-off” to me. Since humans are incredibly intuitive, we have the ability to anticipate things, and think about the anticipations, and dwell some more on all of it. Zebras, unfortunately, aren’t as emotionally invested in things and will easily switch out of their “OMG A LION RUUUN GUYS RUUUUN” phases. Because that’s really the only stressor in their lives. If zebras were as intelligent as the human race, they would have many more reasons to be stressed and it would be infinitely harder to find moments of true tranquility. The baboons are also indicative of the tradeoff between having higher intelligence and handling stressors. Baboons, like humans, are more volatile and emotionally geared, more so than zebras currently are. It’s hard to not stress out with so many things spiraling out of control within our brains. We have advanced too far in the game of life to go back to a less abstract way of thinking. The natural course of life has favored a more intelligent human race and because of this we aren’t able to rid ourselves of our internal troubles and thought-processes. However we are also, with our capacity to learn and think, given the ability to channel our thoughts to not be as troubling.

    And now, on a final note, Sapolsky mentioned a couple essentials when handling stress: find an outlet (a healthy, harmless one at that!) for your stress and to “have a shoulder to cry on” when you need it. And of course, human interaction is vital.

  2. I agree with you that as a college student we are constantly stressed out about whether or not the major we have chosen will actually be beneficial to us or not, future career options, grades, social pressures, and many more circumstances. Thinking about it now, I feel as though if I’m not stressed about one thing, then I’ll be stressed about something else, so in a way I always have something to worry about. I feel like hearing about the fact that stress increases your risk of heart disease, the risk of getting colds, and ultimately increasing mortality rates, would stress you out even more. The question you ask, “ is stress-response system really evolutionarily advantageous to humans?” is a really good question. Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal talks about a few studies that were done about how it’s not the stress that is killing people, but how they perceive that stress that is harming them. There was a study done by Harvard University that found that those who believed that their stress response was there to help them, performed better on the test than those who didn’t. Those who believed that stress is harmful for them had a greater chance of dying. She also talks about the stress hormone, oxytocin, which helps you strengthen relationships. It’s released so that you reach out to others when you are stressed. It also protects your cardiovascular system from stress and it helps your heart cells regenerate from a stress response, so in a way our stress response is built in a way that protects the human body. In my opinion stress is still beneficial to humans, but you have to use it to your advantage.