Social Stress and Learning: The Significance of Peer Relationships in School to Engaging in Collaboration and Strong Academic Learning
Stultz, Sharon K.
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The transition to middle school imposes a unique form of social stress on young adolescents that can be problematic by compounding stress factors for students whom already experience high levels of stress in their lives. First, a literature review will examine research on adolescent development, stress and coping, neuroscience, social psychology, and sociocognitive theory, to examine how young adolescent development may interact with the biological functions of stress responsivity and why chronic stress can play a significant role in adjustment, self-regulation and learning challenges experienced by youth in middle schools. The review is followed by a proposed empirical study that would explore the variation in adolescents' vulnerability to peer social stress, as a potential compounding factor that can be altered. The study would examine the relationship between students' self-report responses to a survey about life and daily events on the Adolescent Perceived Events Scale (APES) to neurobiological measures of stress (salivary cortisol levels) during a simulated social exclusion paradigm (Cyberball). The hypotheses being tested are that, 1) by knowing both a middle school students' stress levels due to pre-existing or current life events and their cortisol stress profile related to peer social exclusion at school researchers could predict challenges related to adjustment and learning during times of school transition, and 2) by being able to determine risk and resiliency factors for vulnerability to chronic stress outcomes, supports can be put in place and interventions developed to minimize compounding social stress factors in the middle school environment. This research would inform educators as to what specific information to elicit from students and families when transitions occur, whether planned or unplanned, and criteria for assessing peer cohort climates and individual students needs, based on stress profiles. Last, the paper concludes by providing suggestions for future social skills interventions and research.
- Education - Seattle