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Rahe et al – Life change measurement as a predictor of illness

on March 11, 2012

I’m really stuck for a blog topic this week so I thought I’d have a pop at evaluating the methodology of a study by Rahe et al.

Rahe’s study had problems with the method because it was a correlation study. You can’t state that one variable causes the other in a correlation study therefore you can’t draw cause and effect relationships. In this study you have no control of variables and the relationship between the two variables being measured could be explained by a third variable that was not measured. This could mean the conclusions are invalid and therefore the study lacks validity because the level of illness can’t be explained by life changes but by an unidentifiable.This study lacks validity also because the Schedule of Recent Experiences (SRE) contains items that aren’t relevant because of the participants ages (average age of the sailors was 22.3 years.) The perception of each event varies dramatically from one person to the other which also adds to the lack of validity. also, the illness score is not a valid measure as it doesn’t take into account the severity of illness and only reported recorded illness.

Participants had to recall past events which lacks reliability because memory may become distorted therefore inaccurate/unreliable.

Lastly, the sample of 2664 males from the US Navy with average age of 22.3 years is a weak sample. They were young so unlikely to have experienced as many life experiences. The fact they were all males (Androcentric), all American (Ethnocentric) and all sailors makes the sample lack population validity.

They were not aware of the hypothesis therefore no informed consent was given and they were not fully aware of what they were part of and also, no evidence of a right to withdraw which could be down to the military context of the study.



One response to “Rahe et al – Life change measurement as a predictor of illness

  1. bpmjb says:

    Whilst physiologically stress responses can be measured objectively, the complexity of stress means that often it is not viable to measure psychological responses with one objective instrument (Lazarus, 1978). Nonetheless Holmes and Rahe were one of the first researchers to quantify the stressfulness of items on a life event scale (Zimmerman, 2002). The scale included stressful life events that could contribute to the development of an illness. However psychological measurements of stress used as predictors of illness, remain embroiled in controversy. The Holmes and Rahe scale as you have stated has not remained immune from this controversy. The item scope included on the Holmes and Rahe schedule of recent event scale has received considerable criticism. Scales investigating events in a person’s life can never be considered exhaustive. Yet a prominent question is to what extent can finite scales of items accurately represent the full range of life events experienced by the individual (Tausig, 1982). Furthermore as you have stated, different life events were found to illicit varying degrees of stress from participants (Linden, 1984). Researchers also differ in their view as to whether weighted life event indices, similar to those included in the Holmes and Rahe scale are more strongly correlated with illness than simply the number of stressful life events experienced by an individual. In addition Zimmerman (1983) found that weighted scores did not improve the stress-illness correlation. Nonetheless despite criticism of the items used and the discrepancy over whether or not to use weighted or unweighted items to measure the relationship between stress and illness. The Holmes and Rahe scale is still implemented within clinical settings to facilitate the understanding of the relationship between stress and illness.


    Lazarus, R.S. (1978). A strategy for research on psychological and social factors in hypertension. Journal of Human Stress, 4, 35-40.

    Linden, W. 91984). Development and initial validation of a life event scale for students. Canadian Counsellor, 18, 106-110.

    Tausig, M. (1982). Measuring life events. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, 23, 52-64.

    Zimmerman, A. (1983). Weighted scores versus unweighted life event scores: is there a
    difference? Journal of Human Stress, 9, 30-35. doi: 10.108/0097840x.1983.9935028

    Zimmerman, M. (2002). Methodological issues in the assessment of life events: A review of issue and research. Clinical psychology review, 3, 339-370.

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