Stress and Decision Making

So for this month’s blog I was going to try and talk about murderers and their cognitive process but I’ve decided to go a more personal route as I’ve been extremely stressed about life and a bunch of things that have occurred. So instead I’m looking into the impact of stress on one’s decision making skills as I kind of feel personally that I’m more confused about what I should be doing whilst I’m under all this stress. According to an article I read from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) that the relationship between decision making and stress is still very much relatively unexplored and that literature on the topic is pretty limited and not always conclusive. Under congressional inquiry, two questions were posed. 1) Does the performance during the shoot-down identify elements of human behavior that are poorly understood? and (2) What have researchers uncovered to date on man’ s ability to make rapid and even complex decisions in high-stress environments? The paper essentially breaks down these issues into a list of specific assumptions and key issues:

  • Stress is affected by perception; they state it as being critical to include when in relation to performance and that the key phrase when discussing the definition of stress is “perceived demands”
  • Competence in judgement is always compromised under stress; this conclusion was drawn from congressional hearings in 1989 and were determined to need further evaluation.
  • Stress is related to information; they give multiple explanations for this “First, initial warnings in dangerous situations are often unclear, sometimes due to the way technology behaves, and sometimes due to faulty communication. This can lead to different interpretations of the problem. Second, people frequently fail to gather the right kinds of information, which prevents them from making appropriate responses. Third, once a decision is made, individuals respond well to a leader; however, if leadership is lacking people tend to become confused. Finally, apparatus (e.g., those used in mine emergencies) may not work as expected or may fail.”
  • Stress narrows the focus of attention; think for example you have a major exam coming up in a class, at least in my case I end up focusing more on that specific subject compared to the others until I take the exam.
  • Dynamic environments effect decision-making; for this they site a couple different studies in which they change environments on subjects on computers to see how it effects their decisions.
  • Stress effects behavior in emergencies; this one I kind of see as being relatively the same as number 5 because when one is in a specific situation especially in such a high stress environment change such as some sort of emergency situation like maybe a car accident or a family member has a heart attack.

Overall this article really just seems to states that it depends on the level of information given and can really be left up to interpretation.

“The point here is that research which focuses on judgment must include scrutiny not only of decisions that are made, but also of real-world variables that influence them. The quality of any decision may have little or no direct relationship to the eventual outcome of its execution in a given situation. This is because a decision-maker is constrained not only by the stress of the situation or personal knowledge and attitudes, but also because he or she can only weigh information that is available.”


Article link:

5 thoughts on “Stress and Decision Making

  1. chayes

    This post was very interesting to read! Stress tends to hinder a lot of things but that fact that you found evidence to back that up makes the idea stand firmer. It would be interesting to see how else stress can effect our decision making with the idea that we might be paying attention enough because we are so focused on an outcome that we can gather enough evidence to help make an appropriate decision.

  2. blogmatt21

    Thank you for posting about this! This is very interesting information! It definitely makes sense that stress has a significant impact on decision making. I certainly find decision making more challenging when under much stress.

  3. nboigegrain

    I was really surprised when I read that stress and decision making is not a well researched topic. To me, it would seem that a lot of people who had conducted experiments and written papers about it because pretty much every single person has to make decisions while under stress because life is never that simple. I do agree however that a person’s performance under stress depends on how much information a person has and the individual person. I know several people fail almost immediately when they are stressed and other people thrive. I think every single person probably functions better under a little stress, has a peak performance under a moderate amount of stress, and crashes under a large amount, but I believe that everyone considers levels of stress differently and therefore perform differently.

  4. caycay20

    First, I loved that your post was very short and straight to the point and also that you related the post to yourself. Others could also relate to this post because of the current climate, i.e. finals week coming up along with all the papers and assignments that are due before finals. So I think this post was perfect! It would be interesting to see what makes different things make a person stressed, like if there are different levels or is everyone about the same?

  5. rachelremer

    I enjoyed this post because my stress levels have been through the roof recently and this is good information about how stress can effect decision making. I haven’t really thought about stress affecting decision making, its a great new way to look at stress.

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