Psychobiological Effects of Teaching Disorders on Teachers (PAUL)

A Multimodal Field Study Focusing on Teacher-Student Interaction (SNF Project No. 100019_185484).

Teaching is challenging. Teachers can feel particularly burdened by educational problems and name this as the main motive for leaving the profession and taking early retirement. In psychological educational research up to now, stress in the teaching profession has mostly been surveyed only using questionnaires. We record the day-to-day work of teachers and also collect biological stress reactions from teachers.

Teachers are more likely to suffer from mental disorders and psychosomatic illnesses. Here, they experience disruptions to their lessons by students (hereinafter referred to as "classroom disruptions") as an urgent stress factor. Teachers also refer to classroom disruption as the main motive for leaving the profession and early retirement. These findings are based primarily on self-disclosure from teachers. Objective working conditions and physiological stress responses of teachers to acute stress events in the classroom have barely been investigated. The goal of this educational field study is to record a working day and a day off work using a sample of 44 teachers, with focus on the teacher-student interaction in the classroom and everyday life afterwards. In an ambulatory assessment design with supplementary follow-up surveys, the following questions should be answered by the multimodal recording of mental stress, biological stress reactions and classroom disturbances by independent observers:


  1. How does the stress load of teachers vary intraindividually and interindividually between working days and days off, during the day and depending on types of activity?
  2. Which forms of aggressive and non-aggressive classroom disruptions are associated with physiological stress reactions in teachers? How do acute stress reactions of the teacher and their associated teaching actions affect the further disruptive behaviour of the students and interactions in the classroom?
  3. How do teachers' general stress and resources affect their acute stress reactions, their behaviour during classroom disruptions, and their estimation of the teacher-student relationship? Which short-term and longer-term consequences arise from increased teacher stress for the teacher, the learners and the lessons?


  1. Initial recording of teacher stress and resources via questionnaire, as well as measurement of hair cortisol concentration, resting blood pressure and body mass index BMI. Recording the classroom disturbances, teacher-student relationship and class leadership from the teacher's and student's point of view.
  2. Recording stress on teachers on working days and days off, from the time that they wake up until 8 pm, in an Ambulatory Assessment Design: a.) Continuous acquisition of the ECG signal to determine heart rate HR and heart rate variability HRV. b.) Recording of physiological stress indicators (cortisol and alpha-amylase in saliva) during the course of the day over eight measurement times. c.) Recording of psychological stress during the course of the day over five measuring times.
  3. Educational video, systematic observation and coding of aggressive and non-aggressive classroom disruptions.
  4. Longitudinal follow-up measurements with brief teacher questionnaire (absences, physical symptoms, etc.) and student questionnaire (motivation, classroom, teacher-student relationship) as well as recording the BMI and resting blood pressure of the teacher after 6, 12 and 24 months.

The importance of the project for school and education

The planned study will contribute to the prevention of primary and secondary stress in teachers. Short-term physiological stress reactions triggered by classroom disruptions can potentially lead to long-term physical stress and a negative impact on both teacher health and the quality of education. Findings about psychological and physiological reactions of teachers to stress in the classroom make teachers aware of unfavourable stress experiences and provide valuable information for health-promoting school development. Furthermore, physiological measures can be used in counselling for teachers and for stress-reducing interventions.