Major life stressors can be associated with increases in psychological stress sensitivity over a period of 6 months, with the link even stronger among those who express cognitive-perceptual features of schizophrenia liability. A prospective study was conducted among undergraduate students enrolled in introductory psychology courses. Results of the analysis were published in Schizophrenia Research.

Recognizing that individuals with or at risk for schizophrenia are highly sensitive to stress, the investigators sought to evaluate whether psychological stress sensitization develops longitudinally in connection with major life events and components of schizophrenia liability. They anticipated that schizophrenia liability would be predictive of higher psychological stress sensitivity, life events would be predictive of subsequent increases in psychological stress sensitivity, and schizophrenia liability would moderate this relationship.

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A total of 184 undergraduates completed a measure of schizophrenia liability at baseline. After this, at 2-month intervals over a period of 6 months, the participants reported on the occurrence of major life events and completed measures of psychological stress sensitivity. The Acute Hassles Scale was used to measure psychological stress sensitivity. The Acute Hassles Scale comprises 19 items that describe nonchronic, nonillness-related daily hassles (eg, planning or preparing meals, the need for new clothes, transportation difficulties, having to wait or the wasting of time, the weather, inconsiderate individuals, and losing or misplacing things). Schizophrenia liability was evaluated with use of the Likert version of the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire. The Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire includes 74 items that respondents rate on a 5-point agreement scale (ranging from 0 = strongly disagree to 4 = strongly agree).

Based on latent variable growth modeling, stress sensitivity increased after incident life events when controlling for the occurrence of baseline life events. Higher cognitive-perceptual and interpersonal scores were predictive of higher baseline sensitivity. In addition, higher cognitive-perceptual characteristics were predictive of greater increases in psychological stress sensitivity after the occurrence of life events, whereas greater disorganization decreased growth.

The investigators concluded that the evidence presented in this study is consistent with the notion that psychological sensitization is involved in the development of schizophrenia, thus implying an important association between the positive features of schizophrenia liability and the magnification of psychological stress sensitivity.

Reference

Grattan RE, Linscott RJ. Components of schizophrenia liability affect the growth of psychological stress sensitivity following major life events [published online August 3, 2019]. Schizophr Res. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2019.07.056

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor