Psychological Measures

Appraisals of Acute Stress

Acute stress is a relatively short-term response to an environmental, personal, or interpersonal situation, during which the body mobilizes metabolic resources and the individual’s cognitive and affective resources are directed at the stimulus/event. Some stress response profiles are believed to be detrimental to physical health and performance, whereas others are believed to benefit health and performance. This summary describes 'threat' versus 'challenge' stress appraisals and corresponding physiological reactivity, and provides the self-report measures to use in lab-based tasks to capture these appraisals.


Burnout is a chronic form of work stress that is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and lack of accomplishment/ ineffectiveness from work. This summary reviews several of the research measures of burnout that exist and describes how they vary in terms of what dimensions of burnout are assessed.

Caregiver Stress

Caregiving for a family member or friend who needs a level of daily assistance that is outside of the normal range of duties for a specific life role (e.g. outside of normal parenting duties) has been conceptualized as both a categorical stressor exposure variable and as a continuous stress response variable.

Cumulative Life Stress

Measures that incorporate information about multiple stressors or risk factors, rather than looking at a single stressor or risk factor, are sometimes referred to as assessments of cumulative life stress (i.e., “cumulative life stress”). Cumulative life stress may be assessed prospectively (e.g., with repeated measures across time) or cross-sectionally (e.g., with measures of current stress experiences and retrospective reports about the past). By assessing how stress accumulates, we can gain important insights about the role of stress on health and behavior.

Daily Stressors

Daily stressors are defined as routine challenges of day-to-day living, such as the everyday concerns of work, caring for other people, and commuting between work and home. This summary describes the Daily Inventory of Stressful Events (DISE), a semi-structured instrument used to capture daily stressors and responses to those.

Early Life Stress (retrospective measures)

Stress in childhood is associated with vulnerability to psychological and physical illness in adulthood. This summary describes four of the most commonly used retrospective measures of adversity in childhood and explains what aspect of adversity each measures and how they differ from each other.

Financial Strain

This summary focuses on measures that capture the psychosocial distress related to insufficient financial resources (aka financial strain). Readers interested in the measurement of socioeconomic status more broadly are directed to this existing resource.

Major Life Events

Life events are time-limited and episodic in nature, such as getting into an accident, being laid off, being broken up with, or receiving a life-threatening diagnosis. Major life events are typically captured by presenting respondents with a checklist of potential events and asking them to select the ones that occurred in a specific time frame (e.g., lifetime or past year). This summary covers checklist and interview-based inventories of potentially stressful life events.

Neighborhood Safety & Cohesion 

Both objective aspects of neighborhoods (such as crime statistics and income) and perceptions of one’s neighborhood environment (such as feeling unsafe or perceiving a lack of neighborhood social cohesion) are associated with physical health. In this summary we describe measures that assess subjective reports of neighborhood qualities.

Pregnancy Stress

Substantial empirical evidence in humans and animals suggests that exposure to excess stress during a mother’s pregnancy influences maternal and fetal outcomes. There is tremendous heterogeneity in methodology and measurement of maternal stress and related constructs. Human studies of pre-pregnancy and perinatal stress have used measures of major life event stress, catastrophic community-wide disasters, chronic stress, financial strain, relationship conflicts, daily hassles, perceived stress, and pregnancy-specific measures of stress and anxiety.

Relationship Conflict

Relationship conflict refers to serious disagreements or arguments, or conflict preferences with close others. Here, we focus on assessing conflict with a romantic partner/spouse. Measures assessing relationship conflict typically focus on (1) sources of conflict, (2) severity and frequency of conflict, and (3) responses to conflict. In this summary, we review measures that captures each of these aspect of conflict.

Social Isolation and Loneliness 

Social relationships are central to human well-being and are critical to the maintenance of mental and physical health. There are different aspects of one’s social relationships that can be assessed, including objective measures of how connected one is to others and the more subjective measure of perceived loneliness. This summary describes how to measure two of the essential components of social stress: social isolation and loneliness.

Stigma, Discrimination, and Viligance for Bias

This summary describes a variety of self-report measures that capture different components of stigma, discrimination, and vigilance for bias.

Subjective Stress

Stress is a multi-dimensional construct that comprises exposure to stressors (events), perceptions of psychological stress, and biobehavioral responses to stress. A more nuanced understanding of stress-health linkages requires an assessment of each of these components. Here, we suggest measures that have been specifically developed to assess perceptions of stress – each with their own strengths and limitations.

Threat Sensitivity

Some individuals may be more vulnerable to acute or chronic stress due to past experiences (trauma, early adversity), current environment (poverty, stigmatization), and/or personality/dispositions. This summary reviews a class of measures that fall under the larger category of “Threat Sensitivity Measures.” All of these measures offer a non-self-report approach to measuring threat sensitivity, which reduces concerns related to social desirability and dispositional positive/negative responding.

Trait Resilience

Certain traits confer resilient responses to stressors. This summary focuses narrowly on trait-like protective factors, which can include individual traits (e.g. optimism, adaptive coping, personal competence, self-efficacy, and self-enhancement) and individual resources (e.g., family cohesion, social support, and cultural influences). While there is no identified “gold standard” measure of resilience, we describe four of the most commonly used self-report scales that assess personal characteristics and trait-like variables shown to predict outcomes of recovery or return to baseline in both clinical and non-clinical adult populations.

Traumatic Life Events

Traumatic events are life events that are particularly severe in that they clearly threaten the physical and/or psychological safety of the person or those close to them such as witnessing or experiencing violence, death of a loved one, experiencing abuse, or natural disasters.

Unconscious Stress

Accumulating research from a diverse range of areas suggests that many of our cognitive and affective processes take place outside of conscious awareness. A number of tasks have been developed over the years to measure unconscious or, sometimes called, automatic cognition.

Work Stress

Work stress in a psychosocial context is generally conceptualized in one of two ways: job strain and effort-reward imbalance. Job strain is defined as having a very demanding job coupled with little control over those demands. The second conceptualization of work stress comes from the effort-reward imbalance model in which stress arises when people put a lot of effort into their jobs for little reward (in the form of money, career growth, or recognition).


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