Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, Vol. 15, Iss. 1, January, 2011, pp. 53-85
@2011 Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences


Social-support Moderated Stress: A Nonlinear Dynamical Model and the Stress-Buffering Hypothesis

Richard J. Field, Dept. of Chemistry, The University of Montana, Missoula, MT
David Schuldberg, Department of Psychology, The University of Montana, Missoula, MT

Abstract: Health psychology has studied the cross-sectional, stationary relationships linking stress, social support, and health. Levels of stress-related illness are generally modeled by including a nonlinear multiplicative or ”buffering” effect, corresponding to the interaction of stressor levels with social support from family and friends. The motivation of the present research is to extend an iterative, dynamic model of this well-investigated psychological process using a dynamical systems model expressed as a set of continuous, nonlinear differential equations similar to those of the ”Oregonator,” a model of a nonlinear dynamic chemical system. This model of the behavior of an individual is amenable to numerical investigation of its stationary-state stability properties, temporal evolution, and cause-effect relationships. The continuous variables in this new approach refer to varying states of an individual; they are Perceived stress (X), Symptoms (Y), and Social support (Z). It is expected that poor health in this model, represented by Symptoms (Y), is directly related to Perceived stress, as well as being tied in more complicated ways to Social support. A number of such models may be envisioned, some including a multiplicative, ”buffering” (- X x Z) effect of social support dependent on stress levels. We explore the behavior of this model over ranges of parameter values and initial conditions and relate these results to how an individual reacts to environmental challenges at various levels of stressors and social-support recruitment. Data generated by the model are in turn analyzed with a traditional cross-sectional statistical technique. Similarities and differences between chemical and psychological systems are discussed.

Keywords: nonlinear dynamics, stress, social support, buffering, health, dynamical diseases, dynamic stability, homeostasis