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…researchers have found that when people are put under stress — by being told to hold their hand in ice water for a few minutes, for example, or give a speech — they start paying more attention to positive information and discounting negative information. “Stress seems to help people learn from positive feedback and impairs their learning from negative feedback,” Mather says.
This means when people under stress are making a difficult decision, they may pay more attention to the upsides of the alternatives they’re considering and less to the downsides. So someone who’s deciding whether to take a new job and is feeling stressed by the decision might weigh the increase in salary more heavily than the worse commute.
The increased focus on the positive also helps explain why stress plays a role in addictions, and people under stress have a harder time controlling their urges. “The compulsion to get that reward comes stronger and they’re less able to resist it,” Mather says. So a person who’s under stress might think only about the good feelings they’ll get from a drug, while the downsides shrink into the distance.
Stress also increases the differences in how men and women think about risk. When men are under stress, they become even more willing to take risks; when women are stressed, they get more conservative about risk. Mather links this to other research that finds, at difficult times, men are inclined toward fight-or-flight responses, while women try to bond more and improve their relationships. -Science Daily
Writing Prompt: Write a scene about a person making a decision in a stressful situation. Include the internal monologue.
Journaling Prompt: How do you make decisions when you are under stress?
Art Prompt: Stressful Decisions
Nonfiction / Speech Writing Prompt: Inform your audience about the role of stress in decision making.
Photo Credit: Andrew.Beebe on Flickr
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