Stress hypothesis overload: 131 hypotheses exploring the role of stress in tradeoffs, transitions, and health

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Stress is ubiquitous and thus, not surprisingly, many hypotheses and models have been created to better study the role stress plays in life. Stress spans fields and is found in the literature of biology, psychology, psychophysiology, sociology, economics, and medicine, just to name a few. Stress, and the hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal/interrenal (HPA/I) axis and sympathetic nervous system (SNS), are involved in a multitude of behaviors and physiological processes, including life-history and ecological tradeoffs, developmental transitions, health, and survival. The goal of this review is to highlight and summarize the large number of available hypotheses and models, to aid in comparative and interdisciplinary thinking, and to increase reproducibility by a) discouraging hypothesizing after results are known (HARKing) and b) encouraging a priori hypothesis testing. For this review I collected 214 published hypotheses or models dealing broadly with stress. In the main paper, I summarized and categorized 131 of those hypotheses and models which made direct connections among stress and/or HPA/I and SNS, tradeoffs, transitions, and health. Of those 131, the majority made predictions about reproduction (n = 43), the transition from health to disease (n = 38), development (n = 23), and stress coping (n = 18). Additional hypotheses were classified as stage-spanning or models (n = 37). The additional 83 hypotheses found during searches were tangentially related, or pertained to immune function or oxidative stress, and these are listed separately. Many of the hypotheses share underlying rationale and suggest similar, if not identical, predictions, and are thus not mutually exclusive; some hypotheses spanned classification categories. Some of the hypotheses have been tested multiple times, whereas others have only been examined a few times. It is the hope that multi-disciplinary stress researchers will begin to harmonize their naming of hypotheses in the literature so as to build a clearer picture of how stress impacts various outcomes across fields. The paper concludes with some considerations and recommendations for robust testing of stress hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113355
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Development
  • Glucocorticoids
  • HARKing
  • HPA axis
  • Reproducibility
  • Reproduction


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