Sources of Stress in the Drive for Power

  • David C. McClelland


Physiologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists have long been interested in the impact of stress on the organism. Years ago Selye (1936) identified a general adaptation syndrome which characterized the way the body responded to any demands made upon it. Eyer (1975) has described the syndrome this way. “Stress@@@ leads to psychological and physiological arousal. Arousal consists of a series of internal changes that prepare the body for ‘flight or fight’ @@@among the acute changes (over seconds, minutes) are: a rise in heart rate and blood pressure; changes in the distribution of blood, e.g., more to brain and muscle, less to skin and stomach; a release into the blood of energy producing compounds such as glucose and fatty acids @@@ both the acute and restorative changes are initiated and coordinated by the brain through its control of the autonomic and endocrine systems. For example, during the acute response the changes in blood pressure, blood flow, and heart rate are mediated by activation of many parts of the sympathetic nervous system and corresponding suppression of activity in many parts of the parasympathetic system. During this period there is also heightened release of such hormones as cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, growth hormone, thyroxine, etc., from endocrine organs. At the same time release of other hormones, for example, insulin and sex hormones, is suppressed. The net effect of these hormonal changes is an accelerated breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to provide energy (catabolism) and a slowing of the body’s synthetic processes (anabolism).” Repeated stress and mobilization of the body in this way eventually predisposes the individual to all sorts of pathology, particularly cardiovascular diseases (cf. Levi, 1971). People suffering from essential hypertension and heart disease in turn are described frequently as having a particular behavioral style which suggests chronic sympathetic activation. They display “extremes of competitiveness, striving for achievement, aggressiveness (sometimes stringently repressed), haste, impatience, restlessness, hyperalertness, explosiveness of speech, tenseness of facial musculature, and feelings of being under the pressure of time and under the challenge of responsibility” (Jenkins, 1971). Psychiatrists studying essential hypertensives (individuals with chronic high blood pressure) conclude “that they live under a permanent life stress from which they are unable to free themselves, that they are sinking under the burden of responsibility @@@ that they are unable to cope with their duties @@@” (see Brod, 1971, Jenkins, 1971). Similarly, Wolf (1971), notes that individuals susceptible to heart attack seem to be forever struggling very hard to live up to the demands of a situation which they cannot quite satisfy.


Heart Attack Physiological Arousal Life Change Power Stress Stress Source 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • David C. McClelland
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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