Stress is recognized today as one of the main health problems. Facing a situation considered stressful, several physical and emotional symptoms may appear (anxiety, difficulty concentrating, skin problem, migraines, etc.). Pressures at work, family tensions, financial or health problems … the causes are more and more numerous, as are studies showing that stress can have very negative effects on health (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension … ). However, according to researchers from Imperial College London (UCL) stress would also have a very negative impact at the behavioral level.
As their study explains published in the Journal of Neuroscience, he would indeed be able affect our decision making : When stressed, people draw unwanted conclusions based on weaker evidence than when relaxed. Thus, “stress can make people more likely to conclude that the worst-case scenario is true. », Explains the scientific team. The researchers started from the observation that many important choices, medical or professional financial decisions, will occur under threatening circumstances. that cause stress and anxiety. Some people even experience it on a daily basis, such as doctors or soldiers.
When stress arises, information gathering is affected
“Often these decisions require first collect information and weigh the evidence. For example, you can consult several doctors before deciding on the best treatment, ”notes the study’s lead author, Prof Tali Sharot. So the researchers wanted to know if feeling stressed can change the way a person processes and uses the information they collect. “Our research suggests that under stress, people weigh more each piece of evidence that supports unwanted conclusions only when they are relaxed. », Assures Tali Sharot. “In contrast, the way they assess evidence that supports desirable conclusions is not affected by stress. ”
As a result, people would be more likely to conclude that the worse the better. when they are stressed. For the study, 91 volunteers played a categorization game, in which they could gather as much evidence as they wanted to decide whether they were in a desirable (which was associated with rewards) or undesirable ( which was associated with losses). Before starting the experiment, the researchers informed 40 of these volunteers that they also had to deliver a surprise speech to a large audience, which would then be judged by a panel of experts. Information that did not fail to make them very stressed and anxious.
Stress, “an obstacle to our decision-making process”
Researchers have discovered than in a stressful situation, volunteers needed weaker evidence to conclude that they were in an undesirable environment. In contrast, stress did not alter the strength of the evidence needed to reach the conclusion that they were in the desirable environment. “We generally see stressful situations as an obstacle to our decision making process. But the learning model we have discovered can be adaptive because negative beliefs can cause people to be extra careful in threatening environments. », Conclude the researchers.
Note that an Inserm study revealed the importance of being vigilant towards people declaring to be stressed, especially those who think that stress affects their health. According to this study of 7,268 participants, these people are actually twice as likely as others to have or die from a heart attack. In addition, this study also reveals that this association is not influenced by differences related to biological, psychological or behavioral factors between individuals. On the other hand, the ability to cope with stress different according to individuals depending on the resources at their disposal, such as support from those around them.