Stress has many effects, both physical and mental, and the relief of stress is one of the top reasons people seek out massage therapy.
New research indicates feeling stressed effects how people make decisions. Specifically, it changes how people weigh risk and reward.
A new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reviews how, under stress, people pay more attention to the upside of a possible outcome.
It’s a bit surprising that stress makes people focus on the way things could go right, says Mara Mather of the University of Southern California, who cowrote the new review paper with Nichole R. Lighthall, in an association press release. “This is sort of not what people would think right off the bat,” Mather says. “Stress is usually associated with negative experiences, so you’d think, maybe I’m going to be more focused on the negative outcomes.”
But researchers have found that when people are put under stress—by being told to hold their hand in ice water for a few minutes, for example, or give a speech—they start paying more attention to positive information and discounting negative information.
“Stress seems to help people learn from positive feedback and impairs their learning from negative feedback,” Mather says.
Stress also increases the differences in how men and women think about risk. When men are under stress, they become even more willing to take risks; when women are stressed, they get more conservative about risk. Mather links this to other research that finds, at difficult times, men are inclined toward fight-or-flight responses, while women try to bond more and improve their relationships.