Stress affects decision-making


Feeling the pressure of stress changes the perception of risk and reward. New research shows how people, while under stress, pay more attention to the upside.

Which seems counter intuitive. “This is sort of not what people would think right off the bat,” said Mara Mather of the University of Southern California, who co-wrote the paper with Nichole R. LIghthall. “Stress is usually associated with negative experiences, so you’d think, maybe I’m going to be more focused on the negative outcomes. . . Stress seems to help people learn from positive feedback and impairs their learning from negative feedback.”

So when under stress and confronted with a decision, a person will focus more on the upsides of the various alternatives before them. They spend less time on the downside. This may also explain why stress contributes to addictions. People under stress have a hard time controlling their urges. “The compulsion to get that reward comes stronger and they’re less able to resist it,” Mather continued. Where addiction is concerned, while under the stress of getting the next fix, a person might only think about the good feelings they’ll get from the fix, not the downside which plays in the background.

“We make all sorts of decisions under stress,” Mather summed up. “If your kid has an accident and ends up in the hospital, that’s a very stressful situation and decisions need to be made quickly. . . It seems likely that how much stress you’re experiencing will affect the way you’re making the decision.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science, MedicalNewsToday


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