Stress as a state of motivational systems

Toates, F. and Jensen, P. (1997). Stress as a state of motivational systems. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 53(1-2) pp. 145–156.



The complexity and apparent inconsistency in most physiological ‘stress indicators’ has led many scientists to doubt the scientific value of the concept. However, there is clear evidence that the psychological perception of the stressor and the situation modulates the physiological reactions, and psychological concepts such as predictability and controllability are central to contemporary stress research. In this paper, we explore the possible advantages that can be gained from integrating the psychological and physiological stress theories into a formal motivational framework. We argue that stress can be perceived as a state where a feedback-regulated motivational system cannot be down-regulated owing to insufficient feedback, i.e. the system is on ‘open loop’. With the motivational model we advocate, stress can arise both as a consequence of adverse external stimulation and as a consequence of internal causal factors driving the animal to attempt to carry out species-specific behaviour, such as nest building or dustbathing. We conclude that physiological variables will continue to be central in assessing stress, but they can only be properly interpreted in a motivational context.

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