Stress can reduce mental age when it comes to problem solving

It is thought that stress can vastly reduce our mental capabilities, after research has discovered evidence that short term stress can reduce our decision making skill to that of a child, as well as put us at risk of mental health problems.

It is a common thought that a little bit of stress can be good for you, and help you to make better decisions and work quicker, but not according to this study from Mindlab and Benenden Health.

Long term stress (chronic stress) has long been known to have an effect on mental health and wellbeing, learning ability and memory. However, the effect that short term stress can have on these factors is largely unknown.

By getting a control group and a ‘stressed’ group to take the identical tests, the study compared the mental performance of those under stress and those who aren’t.

There were 100 participants in each group and undertook activities which tested critical thinking, practical decision-making, spatial abstract reasoning and emotional recognition. The ‘stressed’ group, in addition, were put through trials that would raise their stress level before and between the activities.

It was found that stressed people performed, on average, 3% worse than those who were not stressed when thinking critically, 5% worse when making practical decisions and when dealing with spatial abstract reasoning, but 5% better when recognising negative emotions in others.

Although not a huge difference, there seems to be a definite trend that implies that people perform less well under stress, and react in a manner more like a child, leading with emotions rather than reasoning. Interestingly, it was found that the stressed group were better at identifying an expression as being sad, possibly because they are more in tune with those emotions.

The study highlights why stress management is so important to us. Staying on top of stress and learning how to control it can help us to perform better in everyday life.