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Stress. 2002 Feb;5(1):47-54.

Displacement activities as a behavioral measure of stress in nonhuman primates and human subjects.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Rome Tor Vergata, via Guattani, 14, 00161 Rome, Italy.


Traditionally, research on human stress has relied mostly on physiological and psychological measures with a relatively minor emphasis on the behavioral aspects of the phenomenon. Such an approach makes it difficult to develop valid animal models of the human stress syndrome. A promising approach to the study of the behavioral correlates of stress is to analyze those behavior patterns that ethologists have named displacement activities and that, in primates, consist mostly of self-directed behaviors. In both nonhuman primates and human subjects, displacement behavior appears in situations characterized by social tension and is likely to reflect increased autonomic arousal. Pharmacological studies of nonhuman primates have shown that the frequency of occurrence of displacement behavior is increased by anxiogenic compounds and decreased by anxiolytic drugs. Ethological studies of healthy persons and psychiatric patients during interviews have found that increased displacement behavior not only correlates with a subjective feeling state of anxiety and negative affect but also gives more veridical information about the subject's emotional state than verbal statements and facial expression. The measurement of displacement activities may be a useful complement to the physiological and psychological studies aimed at analyzing the correlates and consequences of stress.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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