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Contagion of stress

Advances in Group Processes

ISBN: 978-0-76230-651-0, eISBN: 978-1-84950-049-4

Publication date: 31 July 2000


The purpose of this paper is to address recent theoretical and methodological developments relating to social and organizational aspects of stress. Further advances are dependent on a more thorough exploration of stress contagion processes. Contagion is defined as a cascade of demands and consequent emotional arousal from one area of life into another, between closely related individuals, and across the life course. Stress originates in the daily course of life as a consequence of social interaction in dyads and groups, opportunities and challenges shaped by social structure, and constraints and demands channeled by organizations and institutions. The paper focuses on three types of stress contagion as social aspects of the stress process, spillover, crossover, and stress trajectories. The review raises new questions to address in this area, and reviews data and methodological work that sheds light on the three types of contagion. In the view of the author, the most fruitful path for advancing research on stress contagion is to combine the insights of more qualitative research with data derived from empirically rigorous quantitative designs and analytic strategies. Researchers should combine careful theoretical analysis of stress processes with measurement technologies capable of distinguishing individual personality factors from situational, socially created factors. The paper also examines the relative strengths and shortcomings of several different research design strategies to advance theory and measurement: (1) life event measurement techniques more sensitive to stress contagion, (2) life history data collection, measuring stress contagion over time, (3) longitudinal prospective studies of stress contagion, (4) paired-informant and group-level designs, (5) daily diary techniques, and (6) experience sampling.


Wethington, E. (2000), "Contagion of stress", Advances in Group Processes (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 17), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 229-253.



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