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LHS Seniors Study Stress in Fellow Students

Friday, February 27, 2015 -

Stress affects everyone, and each person perceives that stress in different ways. But do the physiological signs of stress match what a person feels when they are stressed?lhssuthermal

That was the question that Liverpool High School seniors Kelsey Austin, Aishwarya Suresh and Shannon Wilkinson wanted to answer for their psychology research project. The project was assigned to students taking James Chrisfield’s Syracuse University Project Advance Foundations of Human Behavior class.

First the seniors had to determine the best way to conduct their research, so they approached LHS science teacher Richard Baier to explore the different means of detecting stress. Originally the students, Baier and Chrisfield discussed the idea of conducting a cortisol test to determine salivary markers for stress, but the experiement had drawbacks and proved to be too difficult for the students to complete over a 12-week period.

Then Baier mentioned similar research using infrared imaging, and the seniors were intrigued by the idea. Baier approached Liverpool Central School District Executive Director for Secondary Education Kelly Sajnog about the possibility of obtaining a Flir infrared camera for the high school and Sajnog helped Baier obtain the equipment in time for Austin, Suresh and Wilkinson to conduct their experiments.

Since junior year is perceived as the most stressful year of high school, the three seniors selected a group of 16 LHS juniors for their research study. The juniors were selected from a pool of students taking either a creative writing course or a health course.

The three seniors took a thermal image of each participating student prior to their experiment and asked them to complete a short survey regarding their experiences with stress. The juniors were then asked to complete two timed tests – a logic test (an online crossword type puzzle that included clues on the side) and a stroop test (a brain teaser that was designed to be extremely challenging). The students were rushed through the second test. After both tests were completed, a thermal image of each student was taken again. The students also were asked to complete a second survey.

After comparing the before and after images, the LHS seniors determined that while every student experienced a temperature change, it was only a slight change (on average body temperatures changed less than one degree). What struck the seniors most, however, was the disconnect between what each student perceived as “feeling stressed” and how the body actually reacted during a stressful situation.

“The mind and body don’t always gel,” Wilkinson said.

“There is so much more we would like to explore,” said Suresh, noting that the infrared camera could be used to research topics such as how the body reacts to emotions and if history has an impact on stress and temperature change.

“Mr. Chrisfield just loved that we were linking the hard sciences with psychology,” Austin added.

Baier said he was pleased that they were able to find a true quantitative technology to use for the research project, and the district was a great help in making it happen.

“These seniors did an outstanding study using infrared imaging as a means to detect stress,” he said. “ Their project is very noteworthy because of its interdisciplinary approach using technology.”

He added that LHS students will be able to utilize the infrared camera in a variety of classes.

Austin, Suresh and Wilkinson recently presented their findings to LCSD teachers and administrators, as well as SUPA faculty advisors, during the SUPA Psychology Salon at Liverpool High School.

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