- Stressed people focus on positive ‘upsides’ to decisions – and ignore downsides
- Can make people make wrong decision in job interviews
- Insight into why stressed people become addict
Last updated at 7:48 PM on 28th February 2012
Stress actually makes us focus on the positive side of difficult situations, a new study has revealed – but that isn’t always healthy.
Researchers at the University of Southern California found that stressed-out people tend to focus on the ‘upside’ of choices – but in so doing, they ignore dangerous downsides.
In a job interview, for instance, applicants might focus on the increased salary, and ignore downsides such as a long commute.
It could help to explain why stressed-out people are vulnerable to risky behaviour such as drug abuse.
‘This is not what people would think right off the bat,’ says Mara Mather of the University of Southern California.
‘Stress is usually associated with negative experiences, so you’d think, maybe I’m going to be more focused on the negative outcomes.’
But Mather and her co-author warn that focusing on the positive doesn’t always lead to positive outcomes.
‘Stress seems to help people learn from positive feedback and impairs their learning from negative feedback,’ Mather says.
The research could offer insight into why people in stressful jobs are more vulnerable to addiction.
People with addictive personalities could fail to see the negative – withdrawal symptoms and other health consequences of using a drug – and only see the ‘positive’ effects of a drug while under stress.
‘The compulsion to get that reward comes stronger and they’re less able to resist it,’ says Mather.
Mather says that the ‘distortion’ effect needs further investigation.
We make all sorts of decisions under stress..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,’ says Mather.
‘It seems likely that how much stress you’re experiencing will affect the way you’re making the decision’