Perceived Stress Scale PSS

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About the PSS

The Perceived Stress scale was developed by Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues in 1983 and the original PSS consisted in 14-items that assessed the perceived stress degree based on that individual’s subjective interpretation of their reactions to stressors during a 1 month period.

Nowadays, the PSS is most commonly implemented as the 10-item scale with the following stress-related questions, focused on the respondent’s feelings and thoughts during the preceding month.

  1. In the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?
  2. In the last month, how often have you felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?
  3. In the last month, how often have you felt nervous and stressed?
  4. In the last month, how often have you felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?
  5. In the last month, how often have you felt that things were going your way?
  6. In the last month, how often have you found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?
  7. In the last month, how often have you been able to control irritations in your life?
  8. In the last month, how often have you felt that you were on top of things?
  9. In the last month, how often have you been angered because of things that happened that were outside of your control?
  10. In the last month, how often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?

Items 1,2,3 6, 9 and 10 come with the following answer options:

  • Never (0)
  • Almost never (+1)
  • Sometimes (+2)
  • Fairly often (+3)
  • Very often (+4)

Whilst the scoring is reversed for items: 4, 5, 7 and 8:

  • Never (+4)
  • Almost never (+3)
  • Sometimes (+2)
  • Fairly often (+1)
  • Very often (0)

The Perceived Stress Scale score is obtained by summing the points awarded to the 10 items and it ranges from 0 to 40 where:

  • 0-13 – Low stress
  • 14-26 – Moderate stress
  • 27-40 – High perceived stress

A short-version PSS can be made by only using and scoring questions: 2, 4, 5 and 10 but bear in mind that scores on the 4-item PSS tend to exhibit lower reliability estimates.

About the original study

The PSS is a classic stress assessment instrument that is easy to administer and quick to rate. Originally developed in 1983 by Sheldon et al.  the PSS remains a popular choice in the assessment of how life situations and feelings trigger different degrees of perceived stress.

The PSS was designed for use in community samples with at least a junior high school education and its items assess how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded respondents find their lives. The scale also includes several direct questions about current levels of experienced stress. Since the items are of general nature, are not limited to certain subpopulation groups and can be widely used.

Higher PSS scores were associated with:

  • Failure to quit smoking
  • Failure among diabetics to control blood sugar levels
  • Greater vulnerability to stressful life-event-elicited depressive symptoms
  • Greater incidence of colds

Subsequent studies have reported relatively satisfactory reliability estimates for scores on the 14- and 10-item forms. Roberti et al. reported reliability estimates of 0.85 and 0.82 in a university sample for scores on the PHS (Perceived Helplessness Scale) and PES (Perceived Self-Efficacy Scale).


Original reference

S Cohen, T Kamarck, R Mermelstein. A Global Measure of Perceived Stress. J Health Soc Behav. 1983;24(4):385-96.

Other references

Cohen, S., & Williamson, G. M. (1988). Perceived stress in a probability sample of the United States. In S. Spacapan & S. Oskamp (Eds.), The social psychology of health: Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology (pp. 3-67). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

S Cohen, D A Tyrrell, A P Smith. Negative Life Events, Perceived Stress, Negative Affect, and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1993 Jan;64(1):131-40.

Taylor JM. Psychometric Analysis of the Ten-Item Perceived Stress Scale. Psychol Assess. 2015;27(1):90-101.

Roberti JW, Harrington LN, Storch EA. Further Psychometric Support for the 10-Item Version of the Perceived Stress Scale. Journal of College Counseling 2006; 9 (2): 135–147.

Pruessner JC, Hellhammer DH, Kirschbaum C. Burnout, Perceived Stress, and Cortisol Responses to Awakening. Psychosom Med. 1999;61(2):197-204.

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