Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Recent research has consistently shown that life change, as measured by the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, is significantly correlated with the onset of physical and/or psychological problems. Despite their statistical significance these correlations account for very little variance. More recently it has been suggested that personality variables may mediate one's ability to cope with life change. In the present study the relationships between life change and the personality measures of Repression-Sensitization, Sensation-Seeking, Health Locus of Control, State-Trait Anxiety and self reported psychological discomfort (Lanyon's PSI Discomfort subscale) were investigated in a multiple regression analysis.

The second major goal of the study was to examine how the above- mentioned variables affect one's responsivity to a film-induced stress. Specifically, do subjects who have experienced more life changes differ in their self reported and physiological responses to a standard stressor? Do the personality variables of Repression-Sensitization, Sensation-Seeking, Health Locus of Control, State-Trait Anxiety and psychological discomfort affect subjects' responsivity? Does life change interact in any meaningful way with the personality variables in the film stress situation?

One hundred and six female undergraduates completed Sarason's Life Experiences Survey and the personality questionnaires. Eighty-eight subjects returned for the second part of the study and were randomly assigned to one of three male experimenter assistants. Subjects viewed a stressful film, It Didn't Have to Happen. Dependent measures were pre minus post film state anxiety and skin conductance, which was measured continuously throughout the film.

Results of the present study demonstrated significant relationships between reported life change and several personality measures. Most notably, reported negative life change—both recent (within 1 year) and remote (beyond 1 year)—was significantly associated with Repression- Sensitization, State-Trait Anxiety, psychological discomfort and the chance dimension of Health Locus of Control. However, these measures were all highly intercorrelated and did not contribute unique variance to reported life change. These results were interpreted in terms of Neuroticism, a tendency to employ mainly undesirable adjectives in describing oneself. Subjects higher on the Neuroticism dimension may tend to endorse significantly more negative life change items. Further, higher negative life change was associated with fewer positive life changes. Thus, reported life change may in fact be mediated by the personality variable/dimension of Neuroticism. Previously reported correlations between life change and subsequent physical illness may simply reflect a greater tendency to report, endorse or recognize ill health.

The study did not support previously reported evidence of Sensation-Seeking as a moderator variable.

In regard to the physiological measure of stress responsivity, an overall relationship between the personality/life change measures and skin conductance was not found. Skin conductance responses were, however, significantly associated with specific life change/personality measures at specific intervals during the film. Considered preliminary, these relationships were cautiously interpreted and discussed in the text.

Finally, despite rigorous attempts for consistency, the experimenter variable had a very powerful effect upon subjects' psychophysio- logical response to the filmed stress; the three experimenters were successfully discerned on the basis of skin conductance via a discriminant function analysis. Thus subtle differences between experimenters had a significant effect upon subsequent responsivity to a filmed stress.