Effect of Stress on Decision Making
Stress must be present to ensure our very being. One may wonder about the validity of this statement, but it is quite true. Stress plays a vital role in the way we make decisions (Massa et al, 2002, pg 1). “Problem solving and decision making in demanding real-world situations can be susceptible to acute stress effects which manifest in a variety of ways depending on the type of decision. The negative effects of an overload of acute stress include attentional tunneling, working memory loss, and restrictions in long term memory retrieval, with simple strategies being favoured over more complicated ones. The underlying assumption is that stress can lead to errors, poor performance and bad decisions. However, acute stress does not necessarily always have a detrimental effect on decision making, rather stress may affect the way information is processed.
Some of those changes in strategy in response to stress are in fact adaptive. They reduce and select the information being attended to and processed, in response to high time pressure and reduced cognitive capacity” (Flin, 2004, pg 42). Flin has said so much about stress and decision making in this little space. To have a better understanding, we are going to elaborate in this essay and analyze the evidence that there is an effect of stress upon thinking and decision making ability.
Stress can be defined in many different ways, but in relation to decision making, stress may be best defined from a scientific view describing the thought process of the brain.
When the sensory organs perceive information, they send it to the thalamus of the brain, which deals with sensory perceptions. The information is then transmitted to the cerebral cortex where the process of conscious thinking and decision making takes place.
In starting the process of conscious thinking, the cerebral cortex processes large amounts of information and judges what information can be dealt with automatically without our conscious awareness and what information must be consciously assessed. At this point emotions, feelings, character traits, and behavior are not part of the decision making process. Thus, the limbic system, which is directly responsible for these emotions and feelings, is activated by the cerebral cortex. Following the technicality of the stimulus, the stress response begins. The stress reaction is what affects our bodies and minds from a physical health standpoint. Thus, stress can be defined as a defensive physiological reaction, the end result of our brain’s conscious thinking and decision making process (Massa et al, 2002, pg 3).
Symptoms of stress with the most impact on decision making are those which affect the process of thinking. Under great stress, the process of thinking is characterized by loss of concentration, inability to perceive new information, hampered short-term memory, Rumination, lack of initial planning of actions, and hasty decision making.