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November 2003 Issue

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Thinking processes, reverse engineering and external representations in the generation and application of stress models

By Dr. Lorraine Cleeton, St. Bonaventure University, NY


 This article traces the progress of students taking a stress management course, in which traditional models of stress were presented and new models developed. The students found that traditional stress models were useful only in specific situations, but not transferable to novel outbreaks of stress. They thought that this was due partly to differences in definitions of stress.  The students found it difficult to devise new stress models. 

 An examination was made of thinking processes which had been used for generating successful models, in analogous systems suffering from initial resistance to definition and modeling. Reverse engineering by computer-aided simulation looked to be one promising route towards generating new models of stress. Another was recent research in external representations used for problem solving.

 It is hoped that this review will encourage the development of transferable models of stress and spin off more precise definition of stressors and strains.



Two major difficulties arose in a course on stress management. Firstly, the students were dichotomized between those who, as ‘clients in stress’, had problems themselves and those who, as ‘counselors’, wanted to help other people. Secondly, the solutions to novel problems presented by the ‘clients’ were not always amenable to solutions suggested by the ‘counselors’.  To anticipate this polarization of the students the initial aim of the course had been generalized to ‘Eliminating, minimizing and controlling stress in ourselves and in other people’.  Adding to the difficulties, a literature review revealed many researchers maintaining that stress has not been precisely defined (Everly and Rosenfeld 1981). 

For the second run of the course, an additional aim was added – ‘Gaining skills to transfer to transfer to new and novel outbreaks of stress’. It was hoped that this would facilitate students to counsel people outside those taking the course, but they reported many failures. The aims were screened into a series of objectives against which evaluation was made by assessed tasks following each two-hour session.

 Although stress has not been precisely defined, assumptions have been made about ‘the effects of a feeling of acute or prolonged anxiety’ or ‘lack of resolution of conflict’.  Based on such imprecise definitions, which create more constructs than they eliminate, it was not surprising to find widespread disagreement among the students in acceptance of such concepts as 'stress-related illness'. Students were able to fit appropriate models to the symptoms, but needed tools to develop new models to understand novel stressors. Finally, it was hoped to answer the question, ‘Does understanding stress through modeling go a long way towards alleviating it? ‘


Stress Models


Information overload (‘Tap and Jug’) model

 Many people have visions of stress and visions of what would cure it, for example, 'If I didn't have so much work to do', 'If my students were well behaved' or 'If my boss would leave'.

Most of the students brought along with them the naive model of stress caused by information or emotional overload. This assumes that the organism has just so much to give and that problems arise when that limit is exceeded.  Powell and Enright (1990) called this the 'Tap and Jug' model -

Tap and Jug model

The strength of this model lies in simplicity, but its weakness in the variety of capacities of individuals for overload and the variability of their reactions to stimuli (Eysenck 1989). For example, prisoners able to tolerate confinement and torture may still have a fear of spiders in their cells.  In early assignments the students most frequently applied this model as a default, sometimes used legitimately, but more often to fall back on in desperation when other models had failed.


 Capacity - Demand model

 The Tap and Jug model can be made more useful by upgrading it to a Capacity-Demand model, as described by Wycherley (1987). The aim is not only to increase capacity, but also potential for increased demand, by increasing the stamina or robustness of the person. To increase capacity, optimum challenge should be applied, according to the Yerkes-Dodson (1908) Law -


Yerkes-Dodson Law

 This law states that there is a optimum level of challenge - sufficient to stimulate and maintain interest, but not sufficient to cause undue stress.


Capacity – Demand model











Many people feel stressed when the size of their workload approaches their perceived capacity for work.  Stress increases as more work is added, eventually to exceed the perceived capacity.  Ideally one hopes that the workload will decrease, but sometimes as a result of the stress we are scarred and our capacity is reduced.  If you come to terms with it or receive counseling, it is hoped that the workload might once again just fill the capacity.  A better solution would be to achieve more stamina so that there is increased capacity, i.e. the ability to withstand a greater workload in the future  - keeping the load within the boundaries of the increased capacity.


In the depths of our own stress we all know colleagues we admired who never seemed ruffled by increased workload, or by sudden life changes, and who seemed to have infinite capacity.




Weight-on-a-Spring model


Against the background of imprecise definition of stress, the concepts of 'stressors' and 'strains' were discriminated and offered to the students in a cause-effect model.  A 'stressor' might be work overload, causing the 'strain' of fatigue. This is illustrated by the

Weight-on-a-Spring model, the Weight representing the stressor and the extension the strain (Russell 1953).











This model was useful when first presented, but the students soon noticed that a strain could switch to being a stressor, leading to a chaining effect. For example, the strain of fatigue could become the stressor causing the strain of a weakening family relationship.  A stress counselor should enter the chain by defining the stressor and strain at point of entry. There is cost to a client, and difficulties for a counselor, who fails to find the break-point of entry to a closed loop stressor-strain cycle.



Three-Systems model


The students were given local, national and global suicide and mortality figures, with their relationships to variables such as socioeconomic background and marital status.  This led to listings of stress-related illnesses.  The students showed wide variation in their beliefs about discrimination and generalization of this concept, which was not surprising given the background of an imprecise definition of ‘stress’ itself.  The students understood and accepted the Three-Systems Model of behavioral, emotional and physical interaction as described by Powell and Enright (1990), but they barely mentioned it in discussion, counseling or essays.  Perhaps the students felt the model to be too naïve, obvious or inappropriate, even in conditions where its originators saw its relevance.  Perhaps being a textual model it was easily forgotten.  However when students failed to observe behavioral, emotional and physical changes at an early stage in a counseling situation, there were cumulative difficulties in reducing client anxiety.



Type A and B Personalities model


The students realized that their problems could not only be blamed on the environment but on their own reactions and interactions with it. The Type A and B model of behavior traits (Friedman and Rosenan 1959; Glass 1977; Matthews 1982) was introduced. Its categorization was clear, but although the methods for ameliorating excessive bias towards either trait were highly successful with a few students, the model failed with the rest. A new model was proposed for targeting a desirable but hypothetical middle-road Type ‘C’ behavior and developed by role-play to even more satisfying Types D, E, F - - - and subsequent behaviors, where for example reaction to a novel, unexpected event, shock or emergency situation could be controlled to prevent disablement of thought or action.  Assuming attitudes are difficult to change quickly by conventional methods (except by unfortunate negative shock events), the students found that much practice was needed to reach the ‘higher’ levels of C, D, E - - - behavior, beyond the traditional Types A and B.  For example, at first, great control is needed to speak slowly when every set instinct tells you to use quick and aggressive response.  Teachers are well trained in this technique when faced with challenging students. Ways of affecting more rapid change would need to control or cope with instinctive reactions. Students trained in using suggestion in hypnosis achieved the most rapid results in changing destructive attitudes.



Life-Change Units (LCU’s)


Shock events like bereavement can effect rapid temporary or permanent change.  Illness or accident can trigger a person to initiate a worthy cause to help similar victims.  The students completed the Holmes and Rahe (1967) Life-Change Inventory, but found that their reactions to a life-change event were dependent on their hardiness, mental stamina and parental or vocational training -



Life-Change Model


This model suggests that life changes or job changes cause the stress.  Life changes have been placed in a hierarchy.  At the top of the list is 'death of a spouse'.  'Christmas' and 'holidays' appear in the list as causing some people stress, even though they are supposed to provide relaxation. Each life-change item in the list is allocated a score.  You add your scores and the total indicates your stress level.


Perhaps each profession should develop its own LCU’s. For example, teachers are subject to their own list of internal life changes - sudden changes in collaborative teams, the curriculum or family problems. Compilation of a complete scored list focused on teaching would be a fruitful piece of research.


Test Your Stress Level -

Read through this list of life events and write down the Life Change Units (LCUs) value for each that has occurred in the last 12-18 months.

Total your Life Change Units (LCUs). If your score is 150 LCUs or less, your level of stress based on life changes is low. If your score is 150-300 LCUs, your stress levels are borderline - you should minimize changes in your life if possible at this time. If your score is more than 300 LCUs your stress levels are high. You should minimize other changes in your life if possible and work at instituting some stress intervention techniques.


Ranking of Life event


1. Death of Spouse


2. Divorce


3. Marital Separation


4. Jail Term


5. Death of close family member


6. Personal injury or illness


7. Marriage


8. Fired from job


9. Marital reconciliation


10. Retirement


11. Change in health of family member


12. Pregnancy


13. Sex Difficulties


14. Gain of new family member


15. Business readjustment


16. Change in financial state


17. Death of close friend


18. Change to different line of work


19. Change in number of arguments with spouse


20. Mortgage/loan for major purchases


21. Foreclosure of mortgage or loan


22. Change in responsibilities at work


23. Son or daughter leaving home


24. Trouble with in-laws


25. Outstanding personal achievement


26. Spouse begins or stops work


27. Begin or end school


28. Change in living conditions


29. Revision of personal habits


30. Trouble with boss


31. Change in work hours or        conditions


32. Change in residence


33. Change in schools


34. Change in recreation


35. Change in church activates


36. Change in social activities


37. Mortgage, or loan for lesser purchase (car etc.)


38. Change in sleeping habits


39. Change in number of family



40. Change in eating habits


41. Vacation


42. Christmas


43. Minor violation of the law



Stress is the body's non-specific response to any demand placed upon it. It is not caused only by negative or adverse influences. Stress increases the rate of wear and tear the body experiences. Americans spend over nine billion dollars a year to deal with stress.



Ritualistic model


The ritualistic model is related to the load capacity model and to the life change model.  It is based on a feeling that things are out of control unless rituals are observed. Eventually this blocks creativity and innovation. The rituals are not confined to working hours. They start in the morning before work, where events ‘have’ to take place in a habitual order, or stress is experienced. In the stress management course, students were weaned from rituals by setting them a homework assignment to break at first just one ritual. They said it was the most difficult assignment of the course. Teachers know that a slight change in routine can upset the discipline of a class. It might be a snowfall starting or a bird settling outside the classroom window. Perhaps the education system should devote itself in the affective domain to teaching children to react appropriately to novel situations, essential for encouraging creativity.



Moving animal model


A simple ‘moving animal’ model was found to be very effective. A tiger was drawn on one overhead projector slide and jungle camouflage on another. The two slides were placed on top of each other on an overhead projector.  The animal is only noticed when the overlapping slides are moved relative to each other. The analogy in stress management is that many people are happy to preserve the status quo and only experience stress when changes are made in their working life.  This model helped to exercise the ‘detector function’ described later in Kuhn’s model (1974).



Microstressors model


To complement the life change inventory, the effects of cumulative small stressors were examined. Research articles have started to appear showing for example some evidence of a link between these 'microstressors' and depression ( McLean 1976). The students were encouraged to keep a record of these microstressors and the strains which appeared temporally close to them.



Assertiveness-Relaxation model


Many of the students asked to be taught Assertiveness. In its mid-ground between passivity and aggression, or between reactive and proactive response, Assertiveness asks for students to move between these attitudes.  Like switching between Type A and B, it was difficult to break lifelong habitual responses to situations. Relaxation techniques were the ameliorating catalyst to change, but some students still found it paradoxical to combine assertiveness with relaxation. Relaxation was therefore practised both in preparation for being more assertive when rights were infringed and also for defusing the aggression of other people. For most students extensive role-play and feedback from external situations effected the desirable responses.




Learning curves model


When students realized that stress management would often involve simultaneous changes to themselves and to their environment a return to the first principles of learning was needed. They had to learn how to learn new responses to stressors. This was difficult because of their ritualizations. Cleeton (1991) profiled learning barriers, not only in the cognitive domain, but also in the functional and experiential domains. Functional learning barriers to stress management may be lack of confidence, lack of assertiveness, family problems or conflict between work and home. Experiential learning barriers may be lack of experience in dealing with problems normally arising at work or home. The students were shown examples of learning curves -





Curve showing a linear rate of learning









                                                      (fast learner)



                                                                 (slow learner)








Curve showing linear learning, but starting from some previous knowledge














                      --------Previous knowledge






More realistically, the following curve shows how many of us learn. It is called the ‘stepped-change model’. For example, when we learn how to play a musical instrument, we achieve an elementary level quite rapidly, and then seem to ‘stick’ at that level and think we will never rise above it. After a number of steps, we may reach a ‘plateau’ where we either give up the practice and learning, or realize that we have reached the limit of our persistence or

ability -  


Curve showing stepped learning










































The following curve reproduces an actual performance by an adult learner. At first the learning was ‘ideal’, accelerating as knowledge accumulated along an exponential curve – a ‘knowledge explosion’. Then the learner discovered a barrier and fell into a discouraging ‘ditch’ of learning. Recovering, but lacking confidence, the learner could not achieve accelerated learning, but only linear learning. A second fall into a ditch leaves the learner so discouraged that some previous learning could not remembered (a learning ‘block’), but eventually recovery took place to reach a plateau of ability and persistence.




Learning Curve showing actual performance of an adult learner









                          linear learning -






               accelerated (‘ideal’) learning                                   































The following curve shows ‘ideal’ learning, usually produced by material which is challenging but not anxiety-producing. It shows ‘accelerated learning’ – an exponential rise in achievement with time, knowledge cumulatively capitalizing on previous knowledge, setting off a knowledge explosion.    




‘Ideal’ Learning Curve







Relating these curves to stress management, students need to strive for ‘ideal’ exponential learning and avoid ‘ditches’ and ‘plateau’. Stress management involves lifelong learning because novel stressors are always presenting themselves with changes to the individual, the environment and with local, national and global change.


Perception and Reality model


Learning Barriers


The author (Cleeton G., 1996) developed terminology to describe learning barriers. Have you ever heard adults or children say, ‘I can’t do Math’? They are expressing a perceived learning barrier. In practice the barrier may be real or illusory. Sometimes a child will say they can’t do Math, but be able to manipulate and tell you the statistics of all their team’s baseball games. In that case the barrier must be to some extent illusory. When adults return to the classroom after a gap of many years, they are often scarred with memories of failure in school, sometimes from bad teaching, for example from teaching abstract before concrete operations. These scars caused ditches in their learning curves. Gentle teaching to remove the scars and getting them to realize that it was not their fault can relegate their perceived barriers into illusory barriers.


Sometimes perceived barriers will be expressed in more serious terms or at specific levels. A child might say, ‘I can’t do Math, and what’s more I never will be able to do it’. This suggests that there is a hierarchy of learning barriers.  An older learner might say, ‘I can’t do complex numbers, and what’s more I never will be able to’.


Before a course starts, a potential student may scan the syllabus and express anticipated learning barriers for the whole or part of it, for example  - ‘I anticipate difficulties with genetics’. This can cause a damaging mindset. Piaget and Inhelder (1971) said, ‘That which is anticipated is more likely to occur’ - an example of ‘negative’ or pejorative visualisation.


In stress management the tutor needs to demonstrate that many anticipated and perceived barriers can be illusory, and also teach how to overcome real  barriers. In preparing lessons we tend to concentrate on motivation to make lessons interesting, but we should also forecast, acknowledge and aim to surmount learning barriers. Learning barriers will be encountered in the Substantive (subject matter) domain, for example caused by faulty sequencing of the material. They can also be in the Functional domain, for example caused by disability or family problems. They can be in the Experiential domain, for example caused by lack of practical experience in needed skills. There are several models of learning barriers. Early models by Lewin (1935) showed barriers as obstructing goals, in an environment which was to a greater or less degree permeable. As teachers our role is to set the goal and make the teaching environment as permeable and flexible as possible to surmount the learning barriers.


An insidious learning barrier is the discovered barrier. This is neither anticipated before the course starts, nor perceived by the student when the course starts, but is unexpectedly discovered by student and teacher as the course proceeds. Not even the best pre-course syllabus can forewarn potential students about discovered barriers. Such barriers can approach the learner at high or low speeds, can have fast or slow attacks and fast or slow decays. Their profiles will resemble those generated by music synthesizers –  





Learning barrier with fast attack and slow decay

barrier height


Learning barrier with slow attack and fast decay


barrier height




















Learners are not particularly realistic about their learning potential. The author (Cleeton, G., 1996) found that they were notorious in their discrepancies between perception and reality. Mostly they were pessimistic, sometimes optimistic. Skilled teaching can bring them into reality without discouragement.


Weaknesses were apparent in students' decision-making skills. They tended to act either in a stereotyped way when faced with novel outbreaks of stress, or at the other extreme would vacillate between trial of different solutions. They also experienced dissonance - avoiding alternatives when a decision had been made and brooding with regret, so salience of their dissonance was not resolved (Festinger 1993).  Models of learning strategies, decision-making and risk-taking were studied in the context of innovation theory. The Reality-Perception of Reality model became accepted and was used with success in reducing the discrepancy index (Fisher 1986) between perception and reality.



Child-Within model


Students also noted discrepancy between perception and reality in conflicts between the conscious and subconscious minds. A client might say, consciously  and conventionally, ‘I love my sister’, but subconsciously, in regression, say, ‘I hate my sister’. Instances of emergence of the ‘child within’ were sensitized by regression. Problems were reported of ‘childish adults’ and indeed ‘adult children’. Reluctantly some of these effects began to be recognized by the students as lying within themselves and led to their determination to remove the ‘bugs’ from their systems before practising stress management on other people.



Time management model


The stressors of learning and of meeting targets were approached through time management and just-in-time management, keeping long-term diaries of activities, relaxation and thinking.  Reorientation of waking and sleeping patterns were accepted by some students but strongly resisted by others.  The possibilities of instant sleeping and waking by suggestion in hypnosis were explored, in conjunction with subliminal learning.



Marionette on Strings model


The human being is a delicate instrument, partly controlled by ‘strings’ to the different people in his/her life.  When one of these people pulls a string that attached to the human being too tightly, the string or the human being can ‘snap’ and be either mentally, physically or both mentally and physically destroyed.  Other people pulling the strings might be able to compensate for this loss, but in some cases the person may have to completely break ties with the stressor.  For example, if the stressor is an employer, the person might have to resign to save mental and physical health.



Shifting the Goal Posts model


The person is told to complete a task.  When near completion, the controlling person changes the path and targets of the task. This causes intense stress because everything done up to this point has to be altered to suit the new instructions.



Mountain out of a Molehill model


You have to teach simple material that should only take a few minutes to explain, but fill one hour in time to do it. This is a stressor for teachers, professors, or anyone lecturing.  Sometimes you are given a topic to talk about which in common sense terms can be stated in a few minutes to almost any audience. You have to stretch this to an hour. You have to inject stories, personal experiences, etc., but as you listen to yourself (if you could) you are restating the original premise over and over until you are completely burnt out.  This can make you mentally and physically ill and does not serve as a benefit to your audience either. It is making something more important than it is.



Contagion of stress model


Most of us have experience of the ‘weak link in the chain’ when working as a team, for example the person who holds up the work by not meeting deadlines. When prolonged this behavior can be contagious.


Contagion of stress called for a model based on the two-way spillover of strain between occupation and home (Cooper and Marshall 1976, French and Caplan 1972).  This necessitated assembly and modeling of family relationship stressors and occupational stressors, and the interaction between them.



Power, Role, Task and Person model

Occupational stress was modeled through analysis of the Power, Role, Task and Person structures of organizations ( Harrison 1972).

Their structural strengths and weaknesses were assessed in terms of (i) their stability, (ii) their resistance to change, development or recessional crises and (iii) how individuals of different personality might fare in them, or be matched to a structure by choice.


The following descriptions of the structures are due to Harrison (1972) -

The power culture is most often found in small entrepreneurial organizations. Its structure can be pictured as a web.

The power culture depends on a central power source with rays of power and influence spreading out from that central figure. The rays may be connected by functional or specialist strings but the power rings are the centers of power and influences.

This organization works on precedent and by anticipating the wishes and decisions of the central power sources. There are few rules and procedures and little bureaucracy. Control is exercised from the center. It is a political organization in that decisions are taken largely based on the balance of influence rather than on logical or procedural grounds.

A power culture can move very quickly and react rapidly to threats or opportunities. These cultures put a lot of faith in the individual, little in committees. They judge by results and care very little about the means used to obtain results. Size is a problem for power cultures; when they get large or when they seek to take on too many activities, they can collapse.


The role culture is called a bureaucracy. The structure for a role culture can be pictured as a Greek temple.


The role culture works by logic and rationality. Its strength in its its pillars or functional specialties, e.g. the finance department, the technical services department, the public services department. The work of the functional departments is contro lled by:

bulletProcedures for roles -- Job descriptions, authority definitions
bulletProcedures for communications -- required sets of copies of memos
bulletRules for settlement of disputes -- appeal process.

The functional departments are controlled at the top by a small group of senior managers (the pediment of the temple). It is assumed that these folks are the only co-ordinators required if the separate departments do their job as laid down by the rules and procedures and the overall plan.

In the role culture, the job description is often more important than the individual who fills it. Individuals are selected for satisfactory performance of a role and the role is usually so described that a range of individuals can fill it. Performance above and beyond the role prescription is not required and can even be regarded as disruptive. Position power is the major power source; personal power is frowned upon and expert power limited to its proper place. The efficiency of this culture depends o n the rationality of the allocation of work and responsibility rather than on individuals.

The role organization will succeed very well in stable environments where little changes from year to year and predictions can be made far in advance. Where the organization can control its environment, where its markets are stable, predictable or controllable, the rules and procedures and the programmed approach to work will be successful.

Role cultures are slow to perceive the need for change and slow to change even when the need is seen. If the market, the product/service needs, or the environment changes, the role culture is likely to continue without change until it collapses or until the top management is replaced.

Role cultures offer security and predictability to the individual -- a steady rate of ascent up the career ladder. They offer the chance to acquire specialist expertise without risk. They tend to reward those wanted to do their job to a standard. A role culture is frustrating for the individual who is power-oriented or who wants control over his/her work. Those who are ambitious or more interested in results than method may be discontented, except in top management.

The role culture is found where economies of scale are more important than flexibility and where technical expertise and depth of specialization are more important than product innovation or product cost.


The task culture is job or product oriented or focused on service delivery. Its accompanying structure can be represented as a net.


Notice some of the strands of the net are thicker and stronger than the others. The power and influence in a task culture lies at the intersections. A matrix organization is one form of the task culture.

The task culture seeks to bring together the appropriate resources, the right people at the right level of the organization, and then to let them get on with it. Influence is based more on expert power than on position or personal power, although these power sources have an effect. Influence is more widely dispersed than in other cultures and each individual in the culture tends to think he/she has influence.

The task culture is a team culture where the outcome, the result, the product of the team's work tends to be the common goal overcoming individual objectives and most status and style differences. The task culture uses the unifying power of the group to improve efficiency and to identify the individual with the objective of the organization.

The task culture is highly adaptable. Groups, project teams, or task forces are formed for a specific purpose and can be reformed, abandoned or continued. The net organization works quickly since each group ideally contains within it all the decision-making powers required. Individuals have a high degree of control over their work in this culture. Judgment is by results. There are generally easy working relationships within the group with mutual respect based upon capacity rather than age or status.

The task culture is appropriate where flexibility and sensitivity to the market or environment are important. The task culture fits where the market is competitive, where the product life is short, where speed of reaction is important.

The task culture finds it hard to produce economies of scale or great depth of expertise. Large scale systems are difficult to organize as flexible groups. The technical expert in a task culture will find him/herself working on various problems and in various groups and thus will be less specialized than his/her counterpart working in a role cultures.

Control in a task culture is difficult. Control is retained by top management through the allocation of projects, people and resources. But little day-to-day control can be exerted over the methods of working or the procedures without violating the norms of the culture. Task cultures flourish when the climate is agreeable, when the product is all-important, when the customer is always right, and when resources are available for all who can justify using them. ( ‘for example putting a Man on the Moon by 1970’ – Ed.)

When resources of money and people have to be rationed, top management may wish to control methods as well as results. When this happens, team leaders begin to compete for resources using political influence. Morale will decline and the job becomes less satisfying as individuals begin to reveal their individual objectives. When this happens the task culture tends to change to a role or power culture.

The task culture is usually the one preferred as a personal choice to work in by most managers especially those at junior and middle levels. It is the culture which most of the behavioral theories of organizations point towards with their emphasis on groups, expert power, rewards for results, merging individual and group objectives. It is the culture most in tune with current ideologies of change and adaptation, individual freedom and low status differentials.


The person culture is an unusual one and won't be found in many organizations but many individuals cling to some of its values. In this culture the individual is the central point. If there is a structure or an organization it exists only to serve and assist the individuals within it. If a group of individuals decide that it is in their own interests to band together in order to do their own thing more successfully and that an office, a space, some equipment, some clerical support would help, then the resulting organization will have a person culture. Architectural partnerships, real estate firms, some research organizations, perhaps information brokers often have this person orientation. Its structure is minimal, a cluster or galaxy of individual stars may be the best picture.


As most organizations tend to have goals and objectives over and above the set of collective objectives of their members, there are few organizations with person cultures. Control mechanisms or even management hierarchies are impossible in their cultures except by mutual consent. The organization is subordinate to the individual and depends on the individual for its existence. The individual can leave the organization but the organization seldom has the power to evict an individual. Influence is shared and the power base is usually expert.

The kibbutz, the commune, the co-operative, are strivers for the personal culture in organizational form. Rarely does it succeed beyond the original creators. Very quickly the organization achieves its own identify and begins to impose it on its individuals. It becomes a task culture at best, but often a power or role culture.

Although there are few organizations with person cultures, many individuals with a personal preference for this type of culture operate in other kinds of organization. Specialists in organization often feel little allegiance to the organization but regard it rather as a place to do their thing with some benefit accruing to their employer. Individuals with this orientation are not easy to manage. As specialists employment elsewhere is often easy to obtain so resource power has less potency. They rarely acknowledge other people's expert power. Coercive power is not usually available which leaves only personal power and such individuals are not easily impressed by personality.


Within an large organization different types of cultures may be found as shown in the diagram below:

The second diagram (due to Harrison 1972) below points out some of the organization design policies variables that need to be considered when considering the nature of an organization and its fit with its environment.



Detector, Selector, Effector model


Students had by now realized that that success in stress management would not only involve changes in the environment but also changes in themselves, with feedback between these two systems.


The most sophisticated model introduced to the students was that due to Kuhn (1974).  It proposes the organism has Detector, Selector and Defector functions, is set within its environment and has feedback between these three functions through the environment - 




Basic systems model: inputs, process, outputs


A closed system is one where interactions occur only among the system components and not with the environment. An open system is one that receives input from the environment and/or releases output to the environment. The basic characteristics of an open system is the dynamic interaction of its components, while the basis of a cybernetic model is the feedback cycle. Open systems can tend toward higher levels of organization (negative entropy), while closed systems can only maintain or decrease in organization.

Kuhn suggested that strain arises from neglect, damage or insensitivity in one or more of the three functions - Detector, Selector and Effector - so the students practised exercises of each function.  Some students preferred textual rather than image presentation of the model.  Having applied the Kuhn model, some students were able to inject a fine structure proposed by Kuhn, where each of the three functions has its own Detector, Selector and Defector.  Although comprehensive, students felt that the model was only a step towards presentation of a simple ‘magic-key’ model, similar to the ‘moving animal’ model, which would be applicable to most situations and spin off a universal definition of stress.




                                  Overview of the stress models






Tap and Jug


Inadequate, makes false assumptions

Capacity - Demand


Inadequate, too specific

Weight on a spring

Defines stressors and strains

Chaining of stressors and strains

Three systems

Observation of early warning signs

Difficult to remember, too textual for Imagers

Type A and B

Coping strategy

Difficult to practise necessary changes.

Inconsistent - ignores microstressors.

Life change units

Clear categorization

Insufficient detail for specific occupations


Benefits of gaining flexibility

Difficult to break rituals in a short time

Moving animal

Vivid presentation -immediately useful, also later in complex

Too specific


Useful relationships emerging for depression

Tedious to record Microstressors and their subsequent strains


Popular need


Learning curves

Confidence-building, overcomes fear of innovation

Student preference to retain destructive status-quo

Perception and reality

Challenges cherished assumptions

Too textual for Imagers

Child Within

Recognizes suppressed events

Unpopular for those who must see causal strain-stressor connection

Time management

Connects time management with personality

Needs long-term record-keeping

Marionette on Strings

Involves personal relationships

Tends to absolve individual from change

Shifting the Goal Posts

Useful for meeting deadlines

Assumes powerlessness

Mountain out of a Molehill

Prioritizes tasks

Assumes powerlessness


Issues warning signs of stress accumulation

Difficult to disentangle connections

Power, Role, Task and Person

Understanding structure in which one works

Ignores personality clashes within structures

Detector, Selector, Effector

Comprehensive, open to expansion

Complex, suggesting need for simplification





Many stress management courses have had to follow the pattern of counseling based upon vague definitions of stress, which leads to loss of focus. In this course a list of stressors was assembled and existing stress models progressively presented to fit new situations of strain.  Diverse models had to be remembered and fitted to diverse problems. Students leaving the course felt that the necessary transfer to novel outbreaks of stress had not been achieved.  Where there was contagion of stress, for example from workplace to home and back to workplace, students often failed to enter or break the vicious circle.


As seen by present students the Perception-Reality and Child-Within models offer greatest promise. They cope with variations in life goals. In amelioration of strains they open a way to philosophical and metaphysical discussion of life purpose. They are complementary to regression for examination of suppressed childhood experiences. They bridge traditional and alternative healing.


In the fundamental problem of finding the cause rather than treating the problem, frequently the default has to be that of giving coping strategies for the strain when inability or incompetence has failed to reveal the stressor.


Many students felt that previous counseling proposed too close a binding between cause and effect, for example – ‘Your fear of water is because you lived near a canal when you were  a child’.  It may be prudent to consider the possibility that sometimes there may be no such binding - that there is an element of chance whether an unfortunate child event causes adult anxiety, depression or phobia. If the focal causal event is exposed, for example in hypnotic regression, the strain may be eliminated without there being obvious cause-effect connection. Similarly in the human variation of response to events, there may be no relationship between the severity of a problem and the severity of the cause (and therefore severity or duration of treatment).




Proposals for new modeling of stress


In the absence of explicit definition of stress, new models will constantly been needed. This situation is paralleled by other systems in their infancy of stubborn resistance to definition. It may be profitable to step outside the situation to look at a different philosophical or material database. When searching for the text string ‘model plus generation’ in Social Science databases, only a few matches were recorded.

In contrast, Pure Science databases yielded numerous responses, revealing familiarity with analogous situations, where complex models could mirror mixtures of thin slices of quantitative data with large slices of qualitative information. For example, the ‘state space framework’ was used by Patterson (1995) to apply a model integrating data generation process with data measurement.


Methodologies of kinetic modeling and mechanistic studies of complex catalytic chemical reactions have been analyzed by Gabrielle, Denoroy and Reau (1995). They showed the rationality of a methodology based on advancement and discrimination of hypotheses and gave a review of techniques for hypothesis generation. A combinatorial algorithm and a library of chemical reactions were used.  Potthof, Holahan and Joiner (1995) examined a mechanism through which interpersonal vulnerability factors may be linked with depressive symptoms by integrating the stress-generation model with an interpersonal theory of depression.  Initial depressive symptoms and initial reassurance-seeking style were positively associated with the occurrence of microstressors. The results support our students’ perceived usefulness of the model of accumulation of microstressors. Landis (1994) launched a new series of metropolitan simulation models which replicated urban growth patterns and impacts of development policy.  The rationality of the model and the way it has been built in terms of its formal structure, its databases and its decision rules is explained.


Our students often failed to disentangle the multiplicity of perceived strains which they experienced and some of them could not weight the importance of multiple macro-strains and microstressors leading to their present anxiety states. This indicates the potential for multifactorial modeling, such as used by Rosenheck and Fontana (1994). They used structural equation modeling to explore risk factors for homelessness among war veterans, whose vulnerability was found to be most likely to to a multiplicity of psychiatric and non-psychiatric factors. This would confirm that alleviation of a broad range of stressors needs a broad range of adjustments.


Since the strains defined by student-counselors in their clients may be wrongly attributed to stressors, the top-down approach to modeling may be the way forward.  The techniques of reverse engineering might be adopted.  Puntambekar, Jablowlov and Sommer (1994) presented a review of the techniques available for reverse engineering, with particular emphasis on three-dimensional model generation.  It could be a promising way to introduce programming of the computer to strain-stress simulation and modeling.  Reverse engineering is a methodology for constructing computer-aided design models of physical parts, in circumstances where the drawings of those parts are not available by the normal methods of (i) digitizing an existing prototype, (ii) creating a computer model and (iii) using it to manufacture the component. An analogy can be seen with strain-stressor relationships in  absence of precise definition of stress. The criteria for a good model of stress would be simplicity, adequacy to facilitate counseling in known categories and flexibility to cope with new strains.  At the base level, models are icons for images to hold a problem in view and remember the connections.


Glenberg and Langston (1992) investigated the building of mental models by using pictures in text, suggesting that a picture might provide relatively easy maintenance of some other representational elements corresponding to parts in the picture, freeing up capacity for inference generation. Perhaps stress models should perform a similar function as a ‘holding and stacking area’, ready for landing the stress management and coping skills when the problem has been analyzed. The proliferation of models by brainstorming may be the only path to a definition of stress. However Kometsky and Markowitz (1978) drew attention to the danger of superficial resemblances when evaluating the problem of goodness of fit of a model. Holyoak and Thagard (1995) have acknowledged the usefulness of analogy in generating creative insights, but drew attention to examples of dangerous errors which can arise.


Mental models have been studied by Rhees (1983), Craik (1973) and Johnson-Laird (1991), who maintained that the mind constructs ‘small-scale models of reality that it uses to anticipate events, to reason and to underlie explanation.  The models are constructed in working memory (the mind actively interpreting newly presented information and integrating previously stored information) as a result of perception, the comprehension of discourse or imagination. Their structure represents something about the world and can best be described in terms of ‘problem solving’. In problem solving the task of constructing a mental model involves making assumptions about the problem and understanding the meaning of terms in the problem in order to reach a conclusion (solve the problem).  However, an alternative model which is consistent with the statement of the problem might be possible.   The Theory of Mental Models (Johnson, Laird and Byrne, 1991) predicts that a problem is more difficult to solve if more than one model has to be considered.  Additional models impose a load on limited working memory.


External representations (colloquially the ‘rough work’ we do to make models or solve problems) are in the world as physical symbols (e.g. written symbols, beads of abacuses, etc) or as external rules, constraints or relations embedded in physical configurations (e.g. spatial relations of written digits, visual and spatial layouts of diagrams, physical constraints in abacuses, etc.).  Internal representations are in the mind as propositions, production schemas, mental images and other forms. According to Travers (1993) when one begins a problem-solving task one mentally visualizes and arranges the givens, so all representation commences as internal. Cox and Brna (1995) maintained that concerning the nature of internal representations, popularly debated within cognitive science, advocates can be found for the position that internal imagery is merely epiphenomenal (concomitant to it).


External representations (Ers) are short lived or idiosyncratic. Studies in literacy show the important functions of Ers.  The classical view on writing, originally developed by Aristotle and presently restated by Bloomfield (1993) and Sassure (1983) is that writing merely transcribes or re-represents speech from one Er in auditory form to another Er in visual form.


Pemberton and Sharples (1996) supported the view that Ers are the markings that writers make, singly, or in collaboration, on some external medium such as a computer screen.  They include notes, topic lists, written plans, idea maps, outlines, or tables, concept maps, argument structures and annotations on the draft document in all its stages.  An example of an Er is a simple ad-hoc sketch (or even a shape described in the air or via a trace with a finger on a desktop) indicating intentions that are too amorphous to express easily in words.  Wood (1992), in his studies of pairs of collaborating authors, pointed the authors to draw a large funnel shape to represent the overall structure of the paper, and later both authors cited different places in this shape when talking about the same parts of the paper. Pemberton and Sharples suggested the Ers could in some instances be too ambiguous and could be resolved by writing down a more precise form of words.


When a sample of people is asked to describe their stress by placing it within a stress model, they give different answers to what the stress model meant to them as an individual.

Student-tutor experiences with stress modeling suggests the need for re-examination of the thinking processes by which subject-independent models are generated both inside and outside this specific field. Promising directions seem to be those of reverse engineering and computer-simulation of strain-stressor relationships, and teaching enhanced skills in external representation. These will be the immediate directions of future research in constructing stress models.





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