Have you ever wondered why we're more impulsive when under pressure than when we're relaxed?

According to research published in the Journal of Neuroscience and conducted by cognitive psychologists PD Dr. Lars Schwabe and Professor Oliver Wolf from the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, stressed and relaxed people use different strategies when attacking a problem. Those who are relaxed and unburdened tend to consciously plan tactics that are easily backed by logic, while those who are stressed tend to rely more on gut feeling.

These findings are backed by experiments on two sets of people. The first group was asked to submerge their hands in ice-cold water for three minutes, while the second group was instructed to do the same in warm water. Then, they were introduced to a “weather game” with cards. The cards contained symbols and patterns that can either be taken singularly or by combinations in order to predict a sunny or a rainy outcome.

Those who were stressed by the discomfort of the ice-cold water subconsciously watched for pattern combinations in order to get to the right weather prediction. Interestingly, they couldn’t explain exactly how they got their answers. On the other hand, those who weren’t stressed went for a more direct approach and based their responses on symbols. They also didn't have a hard time explaining the logic behind their answers.

The said research reveals that different parts of the brain work depending on how you’re feeling. When you’re stressed, the striatum, which is in the mid-section of your brain, kicks into high gear. This is the region responsible for unconscious learning. When you’re relaxed, it’s the hippocampus that is put to work. This famous part of your gray matter is responsible for long-term memory.

So whether you’re stressed or not, your brain will make a way in order for you to achieve your goals. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to continuously work in a high-pressure environment. Keep in mind that stress negatively affects our body, so always remember to take time to breathe and relax.

(Photo by ralaenin via sxc.hu)

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