The Q+ Workshop “Resilience – Reacting to and Dealing with Stress” was held by Prof. Beat Lutz, academic managing director of the German Resilience Center in Mainz, and Prof. Raffael Kalisch, director of the Neuroimaging Center in Mainz. 12 Q+ students from the departments of American Studies, visual arts, German, English, educational science, Catholic religious studies, linguistics, music, philosophy, physics, Spanish, and law took part in the workshop.
At the beginning of the workshop, we tried get to the bottom of the scientific concept of resilience by looking at it from interdisciplinary perspectives, including those from neurological research, psychology, behavioral science, and neurobiology. Behavioral science based on animal models long neglected the individual character of stress, especially due to the fact that model organisms are often genetically homogenous. The mechanisms of stress responses have long been studied, and it has often been observed that there are behavioral “outliers,” i.e. animals that show no behavioral changes after experiencing stress. This point was the opportunity for us in this Q+ seminar to pose the questions of which neurobiological mechanisms are at work here, and whether these mechanisms might also apply to humans.
With humans, it has also been found that different people experience different degrees of stress when exposed to the same stressors. This could mean that targeted measures might be able to be used to help make people more resistant to stress and better protected against, for example, depression, anxiety disorders or burnout – which some people suffer from throughout their entire lives. At the same time, however, we also discussed the extent to which helping people to become more resilient might also be abused: in the context of the military, for instance, or in “optimizing” the workplace. In addition, we looked at scientific animal experiments, which we discussed in small groups to develop our own ideas for experiments with mice that have to find their way through a labyrinth. Using different labyrinth layouts, the mice were deliberately put under stress in order to observe their reactions to stress and their strategies to avoid it. The interdisciplinary perspective of the Q+ students, particularly during the small group work, was a huge benefit because each Q+ student came from a different academic discipline – and everyone had their own experience with stress. This allowed us to speak about our own experiences but through very different scientific lenses and the particular languages of our varied disciplines, which was all very exciting – and characteristic of the Q+ study program.