Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

April 1989


Published in Psychological Review 96:1 (1989), pp. 84–100. Copyright © 1989 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. Used by permission. “This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.”


From W. B. Cannon’s identification of adrenaline with “fight or flight” to modern views of stress, negative views of peripheral physiological arousal predominate. Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) arousal is associated with anxiety, neuroticism, the Type A personality, cardiovascular disease, and immune system suppression; illness susceptibility is associated with life events requiring adjustments. “Stress control” has become almost synonymous with arousal reduction. A contrary positive view of peripheral arousal follows from studies of subjects exposed to intermittent stressors. Such exposure leads to low SNS arousal base rates, but to strong and responsive challenge- or stress-induced SNS-adrenal-medullary arousal, with resistance to brain catecholamine depletion and with suppression of pituitary adrenal-cortical responses. That pattern of arousal defines physiological toughness and, in interaction with psychological coping, corresponds with positive performance in even complex tasks, with emotional stability, and with immune system enhancement. The toughness concept suggests an opposition between effective short- and long-term coping, with implications for effective therapies and stress-inoculating life-styles.