Patterns of psychological response to the demands of computer-supported work
The central aim of the thesis is to examine and resolve some of the fundamental theoretical and methodological problems in stress research. Two interdependent means of realising this aim are adopted. The first involves a critical analysis of research practices, the building of a theoretical framework, and the development of methodologies. The second assesses these methodologies by using them to explore affect and symptom reporting in computer-supported work. In order to perform a critical analysis of stress research the key variables are reviewed. Methodological problems encountered in the measurement of each variable are examined, and theory implicit in their measurement is discussed. Existing explicit theories of stress are considered and found to be inadequate. A rational approach to theory building, which takes account of the complexity of stress phenomena is adopted. A theoretical framework of Adaptive Action Control is presented, synthesized from a number of theories, including action theory and motivational control theory. The meaning and measurement of variables within this framework is discussed. Three empirical studies are reported, and their results considered both in terms of their research findings, and wider implications for methodology. The first study is exploratory, using cross-sectional questionnaire methodology typical of much stress research. Several variables were found to be associated with symptom reporting, but the nature of these methodologies make interpretation of the results difficult. In contrast, the next two studies use theory-based diary methodologies and measures of hassles and affect. Different patterns of associations between variables were found for different dimensions of affect and types of hassles. Few effects of computer use were found. The diary methodologies were shown to be useful, and provided indirect support for the theoretical framework. Future development of the framework and its implications for stress research and the relationships between theory and methodology are discussed.