How Does Stress Affect the Decision Making Process?


A guest post by Ryan Rivera who suffered from panic attacks for seven years.

Although it is a premise that is quite obvious, stress has been proven to have far-reaching impact in the decision making process. New studies have shown that stress does not impair a person’s reliability to choose the more positive option. This comes as a surprise as conventional wisdom tells us that stress can make people pick crazy decisions. The latest study reveals that stress can make people take more time to act on things compared to people that are unaffected by stress.

People tend to favour positive outcomes when under stress
Studies show that cognitive stress, such as distractions, affects rational decision making. People experiencing stress are likely to choose the positive side of choices given to them. At the same time, stress slows down the response time compared to people similarly making decisions but not subjected to stress. Researchers found out that anxiety has greatly affected people’s attitude towards risk and rewards. They tend to become more cautious as they ponder on the things they have learned from their past negative experiences.

Quite a surprise
People involved in the research were quite surprised about the effects of stress on decision making. It seems that stress actually helps people to focus on how to make things right. Researchers postulate that stress allows people to learn from positive feedback and impedes what they learn from the negative experience. If we take the time to observe, those who are under stress and anxiety will tend not to rush making decisions. Those stressed and anxious individuals will more likely to think about things over and over again before making a decision.

Going against conventional wisdom
Conventional wisdom tells us that a person that is under stress tends to lose concentration and act indecisively. A person under stress is less likely to perceive suggestions and has a hampered short-term memory. It has been suggested that stress impacts our ability to make coherent decisions because of the lack of focus which could lead to dire consequences. The study debunks the earlier idea that stress is no longer associated with negative experiences and outcomes alone.

Favouring the positives
The new study shows that people that are subjective to a lot of stress pay more attention to the positive alternatives and more likely ignore the downsides. A person who is deciding to take on a new job would likely choose to take it because of the increase in salary and ignore the fact that it may increase the commute time. The study noted that people have a tendency to bear in mind the things that could be rewarding. This results in favoring irrational biases based on rewards that one has reaped in the past.

Downplaying alternatives can spell doom
The downplaying of the negative implications within the decision making could lead to poorer choices. Focusing on the positives could neglect important facets of the negative option that one should consider. It is because whether we like it or not, each problem has a hidden opportunity in it. So, if we sense something negative we need to find out what opportunity is hidden behind it. Later, you’ll realize that the opportunities lurking behind each negative event could literally dwarf the problem.

Men take more risks, women more conservative
The same study also showed that men and women react to stress while deciding quite differently. While both sexes focus on the rewards when deciding, the responses to risks appear to be polarized. It has been found that males tend to make more risky choices and make faster decisions. Females, on the other hand, tend to be more conservative and take longer to come up with a decision. Knowing such facts will only make us become even more amazed about the differences between men and women when it comes to decision making.

The way people respond to stress in decision making gives us an explanation as to why women are outperforming men when the decision warrants caution. On the other hand men can outperform women if the decision needs to take risks to succeed.

About the Author:
Ryan Rivera used to suffer from panic attacks for seven years. He now dedicates his life helping those who suffer from stress, anxiety, panic attacks and depression through his writings. You can read more of his articles at Calm Clinic.

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