Summary of Job Demand Comments in Stress-Disequilibrium Theory paper

 SJWEH Suppl 2008, no 6 Stress–disequilibrium theory


Below is a selection of "demands-related comments" in the sections of the S-D theory paper enclosed – (Karasek, SJWEH suppl 6,Aug 2008.  This paper also introduces an outline of the new associationist” D/C model.


1. ... in the stress–disequilibrium theory, “control” is reinterpreted more broadly than in past demand–con­trol discussions. In the turbulent new context of the global economy, it means the person’s control over the strategies he or she has developed to maintain the stability of his or her “flows” (ie, flows of good, nourishing things: money flows in the door, rent flows out the door). What is important is that the input and output flows are in balance. Maintaining stability of flows for self and for families is always the major “control” challenge of adult lives. Thus “control” (decision latitude) is the freedom for people to act using their repertoire of skills within the social struc­tures in which they have made their main investments and have gained their major life-sustaining rewards.

Currently this scenario is made more complex by the fact that previously existing platforms of stability from outside are being undermined by global economic phenomena. People’s previous control strategies may not be enough to maintain equilibrium—large-scale or­ganizations develop new rules undermining the effective application of previous strategies. Without the ability to maintain high-level equilibriums, internal systems become unstable and devolve toward lower levels of functioning. Chronic disease develops via physiological deregulation.

This new perspective also brings with it a somewhat modified perspective of “demands.” Since no complex organisms exist without flows, a continual input and out­put of energy (nutrients, money, etc) from their environ­ments, none exist without demands. None are therefore either truly “stable” (truly stable forms are dead). What could be stable, then, is the constancy of “flows.” The in­ternal conditions these flows create, and the consistency of the actions the organism takes in its environment to maintain its flows—these could be stable ( p. 119).


2. ...“Work” is defined as the purposeful and precise organization of the actions of the organism to meet unpredictable demands for action from the environment (external work). The definition is applicable in both physical and social science contexts. This definition emphasizes that the response of the organism to the environment must be precise. The magnitude of work depends on the amount of ordered energy transferred by the organism (system) to the environment (also how work is defined in physics). In no case is energy transferred without order considered to be “work”—or likely to be useful for the organism. These requirements mean that the degrees of freedom of response available to the organism for ef­fective performance can be small—and can reduce the flexibility of action. Precise and effective action in the external environment requires coordination of internal physiological and behavioral capabilities. This precise coordination is a different challenge than that of using muscles to lift weights. It is “order­ing work,” related to the Second Law of Thermody­namics.  (p. 122/3).


3. The traditional demand–control “demands” remain relevant, in that high- or low-level job demands can still be defined, their nature and frequency still assessed, and they can still affect health as previously hypothesized, but the perspective of “quantitative demands” now needs further specification, and, as seen later, there can be many levels of demands to be considered simultaneously. (p. 122).


4. Living systems represent a special type of thermody­namic equilibrium—that of an open system. Maintaining life requires the maintenance of gradients, namely, con­stant, improbable deviations from “true total equilibrium (dead, inert, a “grey” uniform state)”. The concept of equilibrium for stable living systems (homeostasis) thus describes an equilibrium of flows.

It is impossible to conceive a living organism with­out demands. Without demands there would be none of the constant “flows” of energy or nutrients that are constantly transformed into ordered action (work) as needed. This possibility would contradict the Second Law of Thermodynamics and all known biological science. Demands come from “just being alive”. With adaptive environmental activity as a goal, the complex system maintains its structure—against the probabilities of the Second Law of Thermodynamics—and from time-to-time also grows. ( p. 121).


5. ...The CNS exports order to the physiological system, for example, by regulating body temperature or responding to a fight–flight challenge, or, in this case, by winning a battle advantage—all of which uses up ordering capacity to prepare the organism for environmental work. [See principle 2.] ( p. 122).


6. ...As the organism adds levels of functional complexi­ty—in order to achieve the goal of precise regulation—it must add levels of control specificity. To get a high level of complex ordering capacity, one must add a constraint structure at each new level of organization to reduce the enormous range of possible states to the small number that represent the action possibilities of the organism.  .....   As each level of functional organization is created, some actions must be tested and reinforced, while oth­ers are tested and rejected. Through this process “con­straints” are created on the available range of actions. P. 124/5).


7... the potential expenditure of  [ordering capacity] at high levels to accomplish a multilevel ac­tion can be a constant drain on [ordering capacity]  at lower lev­els because the lower level systems need to be in a state of “constant readiness” for precise actions (ie, troops awaiting the day of battle), forgoing some states and selecting others. (p. 125).


8. ...“Stress is a systemic concept [p 87]. Stress is an overload of the system’s internal control ca­pabilities. It is an inability to maintain the coordination and regulation of the subsystems needed for effective performance. (p. 128).


9. ...In the case of individual economic activity, equilibrium depends on secure material well-being (food, shelter, etc)—as a necessary platform for any of the further creative growth of skills, represented by this form of social development, but such requirements are rarely discussed in classic, market-based economic theory. ( p. 131).


10.  Fortunately, it is not necessary to contradict previ­ous demand–control hypotheses. They can be under­stood as appropriate specifications of these general principles in the context they were developed for. One example is the large company and national labor rela­tions framework (social welfare state background) for the work-characteristic definitions used in testing the original demand–control model and measures of job conditions in large companies (where it takes a specific form in the widely used Job Content Questionnaire JCQ 1.0). The extensions expand the original vocabulary of the demand–control model beyond work psychology and sociology, but these new formulations are neither inconsistent with the earlier material nor do they reject it. They are merely more-general formulations and ad­dress new areas. (p. 133).