Title: “Labels Matter: Is it stress or is it Trauma?”

Gal Richter-Levin, Carmen Sandi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In neuroscience, the term ‘Stress’ has a negative connotation because of its potential to trigger or exacerbate psychopathologies. Yet in the face of exposure to stress, the more common reaction to stress is resilience, indicating that resilience is the rule and stress-related pathology the exception. This is critical because neural mechanisms associated with stress-related psychopathology are expected to differ significantly from those associated with resilience. Research labels and terminology affect research directions, conclusions drawn from the results, and the way we think about a topic, while choice of labels is often influenced by biases and hidden assumptions. It is therefore important to adopt a terminology that differentiates between stress conditions, leading to different outcomes. Here, we propose to conceptually associate the term ‘stress’/‘stressful experience’ with ‘stress resilience’, while restricting the use of the term ‘trauma’ only in reference to exposures that lead to pathology. We acknowledge that there are as yet no ideal ways for addressing the murkiness of the border between stressful and traumatic experiences. Yet ignoring these differences hampers our ability to elucidate the mechanisms of trauma-related pathologies on the one hand, and of stress resilience on the other. Accordingly, we discuss how to translate such conceptual terminology into research practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number385
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 10 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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