The Science of Stress

Allie Sullivan
University of Vermont
VTeen 4-H Science Pathways Cafe


This write-up was written by Teen Leader Noelani Rupp

Allie Sullivan


On September 22, 2018 the latest installment of VTeen 4-H Science Pathways Café featured, Allie Sullivan. Sullivan spoke eloquently to our group of teens on the Science of Stress. Sullivan, in the process of earning her PhD in the joint Clinical and Developmental Psychology program at UVM, explored why we procrastinate, how stress impacts the body, and talked about the measurement of myriad human responses to stress. Especially successful in her presentation was her participant-inclusive demonstration of a common stress-inducing test involving public speaking. The presentation was a partner activity to induce measurable academic stress, or subjective units of distress (SUDs).



In the partner activity, one partner played the role of scientist while the other partner was the participant was the subject whose SUDs, subjective units of distress, were calculated.  The subject would count backwards by 7s from 6,124. At different intervals, the scientist would ask the subject to rate their stress level and document their ratings. This data was later collected and illustrated on a graph. This led smoothly into a Q & A about research in the field of psychology and application of a degree in the field. The event was well-attended with more than seventy participants and a plethora of hot pizza to snack on. As the presentation drew to a close, participants remained to chat and ask more questions. It was a success!

Graph showing all of the teens Subjective Units of Distress (SUDs)

Hands on Activity

See video that shows the activity. One teen was the scientist testing the other teen’s SUDs as she counted backwards by 7 from 6124 – quite stressful!!