Stressing Off Route

a cluster of wooden sign posts all pointing in different directions

Stress got you going in circles…literally?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Left is right – right is wrong – right??!! Aaargh! Could it be stress that’s jamming up your brain’s navigation system? Thackery Brown from Georgia Tech and the team at Stanford memory lab wanted to know.

Almost forty volunteers were allowed to wander through a bunch of virtual towns. This got them familiar with one path through each town. Then they were given tasks to navigate to certain landmarks. Their brain activity was scanned as they traveled.

But – here comes the stressful part! One group knew they would get random shocks during the experiment. Ouch! 

Results? The stressed group did okay remembering and using familiar paths. BUT they were less likely to try shortcuts when given the opportunity. 

Possible reason? The brain scans showed that the stressed brains were less active in the areas that control memory and planning.! These findings can help us understand how stress can mess with decision-making. 

So, don’t let stress throw you off course – keep calm and carry on!