Life Stress & Health Research
Over the years, there have been many studies mapping the effects of stressful life events on a person’s health. But, perhaps none more comprehensive than the one anticipated by a group of Indiana University Northwest researchers, who are using the power of the Web to gather a substantially greater amount of research over a longer period of time than previous studies.
IU Northwest Professor of Nursing Linda Delunas, Ph.D., the study’s lead investigator, says she and her collaborators, Professor of Business Charles Hobson, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Nursing Susan Rouse, Ph.D, and Professor of Information Systems Ranjan Kini, Ph.D., will collect data from subjects in the U.S. and abroad every three months during a period of several years. The team hopes to gain a better understanding of how the cumulative effect of stressful life events can contribute to health issues over both the short- and long-term.
At first notion, business and nursing faculty might seem unlikely collaborators for a research study. But, the idea was actually born from a tool Hobson had been using in his human resources and organizational behavior courses. Landmark research in 1967 had shown that a high score on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale was correlated to a major immune system breakdown in the coming year as a result of stress degrading your immune system.
Over the years, the scale had become less and less relevant to his students, so Hobson and some colleagues created a new list of stressful events with the help of a market research firm and mental health professionals. They created a new list of 51 stressful life events that was published in 1998.
The team says this new research can be instrumental not only in determining a person’s future risk for health problems but also in assessing what specific health issues might develop. To accomplish this, though, an extraordinarily large sample is needed to determine trends, the researchers say.
The research team brought Kini on board to take the data collection process to the Web and to help with data mining and developing the encryption and safety firewalls necessary for protecting sensitive health-related data. Kini is an international expert in Information Technology, having taught the subject in many foreign countries.
With potentially thousands of participants providing data over the short- and long-term, the researchers expect to eventually predict what kinds of things could happen to someone who has had a bad year or what specific disease processes that person might be at risk for.
“There could be multiple studies that develop,” Delunas says, “depending on the ways in which we can slice and dice the data.”
Depending on what trends develop out of the sample, the team can study the health effects on of stress according to ethnicity, gender, geographical area, lifestyle factors, and more. In addition, they hope to be able to study protective factors in the face of stressful life events, such as the effects of diet, exercise and personality in protecting a person against illness.
“This is unique because it has never been studied in quite the same way before, not with this instrument and not on the Web and not with this level of detail,” Delunas says.
Hobson and Delunas have teamed up on research projects before. Their work on stress-reduction techniques and how well they work was published in the International Journal of Management. In fact, a teaching module designed to help individuals cope with stress is part of the Web site that study participants will use to input their data.
“The Web site will allow us to more comprehensively identify and describe the ways in which life-events stress affects health,” Hobson says. “Ultimately, we hope to be able to educate and empower people to deal more effectively with life-event stress and minimize or eliminate its deleterious impact.”
Delunas says another advantage of Web-based research is the ability to follow-up with participants even if they move around frequently. Participants also will be able to get immediate feedback on how their stress level compares to others in the sample.
The team expressed gratitude to the IU Northwest School of Business and Economics, School of Nursing and College of Health and Human Services and to Research Technologies Life Sciences of IU Information Technology Services (UITS) for their support.
The study is open to anyone over the age of 18 who can read English. To participate in the study, or to learn more, visit http://lifestress.indiana.edu. Or, email the research group at firstname.lastname@example.org.