Systems Science Friday Noon Seminar Series

Stress Physiology in Humans: a Systems Approach to Stress, Stressors, and Resilience



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This talk focuses on the biology of stress and resilience and their biomarkers in humans from the system science perspective. A stressor pushes the physiological system away from its baseline state towards a lower utility state. The physiological system may return towards the original state in one attractor basin but may be shifted to a state in another, lower utility attractor basin. While some physiological changes induced by stressors may benefit health, there is often a chronic wear and tear cost due to implementing changes to enable the return of the system to its baseline state and maintain itself in the high utility baseline attractor basin following repeated perturbations. This cost, also called allostatic load, is the utility reduction associated with both a change in state and with alterations in the attractor basin that affect system responses following future perturbations. This added cost can increase the time course of the return to baseline or the likelihood of moving into a different attractor basin following a perturbation. Opposite to this is the system’s resilience which influences its ability to return to the high utility attractor basin following a perturbation by increasing the likelihood and/or speed of returning to the baseline state following a stressor. The talk will emphasize topics most relevant to moving the stress and resilience field forward from a more quantitative and perspective.

Biographical Information

Dr. Oken has been a neurologist and researcher in the human neurophysiology, behavioral neurology and cognitive neuroscience fields for 30 years. Mind-body medicine with its impact on the stress system has been a research focus for the last 15 years. He has been interested in the effects of chronic psychological stress on biomarkers of stress and resilience in part to evaluate improvements from mind-body medicine interventions. He also directs an NCCIH T32, providing funding since 2005 of 30 post-doctoral fellows with an interest in a career in academic complementary medicine. His strong skills in quantitative analysis of physiological data were enhanced by his recent graduate coursework facilitated by the recently completed NIH-NCCIH K24 award “Advancing physiological signal analysis for mind-body research”. The coursework and related comprehensive examination resulted in a Master of Science in Systems Science and a scheduled PhD dissertation defense on February 19, 2016.


Resilience (Personality trait) -- Quantitative studies, Stress (Psychology) -- Physiological aspects, System theory


Psychological Phenomena and Processes | Social Psychology

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Stress Physiology in Humans: a Systems Approach to Stress, Stressors, and Resilience