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What about animals?

The talk of Kelly McGonigal implies that stress is only problematic when individuals classify it as bad. However, stress is also affecting animals, with stressed individuals living less long (e.g. http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/279/1729/709.short). I have difficulties to conceive how animals could classify stress as bad and suffer from it (because of their limited cognitive abilities), but also how humans could not be sensitive to stress when animals are. Any ideas how to reconcile the two?

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  • Sep 25 2013: Hi - I thought the question was a good question. Here is a possible answer to it. A. Human beings are, as Charles Taylor has it, 'self-interpreting animals'. This fundamentally changes their being or nature by comparison with animals, which are not. For humans, how we understand ourselves affects who and how we are. B. If a human construes their physiological alertness in a positive manner - as 'excitement', say - then this might affect their neurohormonal, autonomic reactivity etc profile in a good way. If however a human construes it as bad, then the psychoneuroimmunological responses will be extra bad. C. An animal can't self-interpret and so they just are lumbered with a default health-damaging response to prolonged stress. D. The real problem is surely with Kelly McGonigal's somewhat reductive definition of 'stress'. As I understand it, 'stress' started out life as a physiological concept when then became broadened by metaphorical extension to the psychological life it enjoys today. I would suggest that, in order for her argument to go through, she has to redefine it back into something like its old life - as a matter of physiological reactivity. But that isn't how we use the concept today. Since we are self-interpreting animals, what it means for us to be psychologically stressed is in part for us to take ourselves to be struggling. Does this help?

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