There’s A Silver Lining To Stress Over Uncertainty

The unknown is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t mean we like it.

Waiting to hear back about a job interview, test results from a doctor or even just feedback from your boss on an important project can feel excruciating. But the stress we feel during periods of uncertainty may give us a distinct performance advantage, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers from University College London demonstrated this counterintuitive finding by zapping 45 study volunteers with a mild electric shock while they played a computer game in which their avatars turned over rocks that sometimes had snakes under them.

Half the volunteers knew when they would get a shock, and half were in an “uncertainty group” in which they were told to guess whether or not there would be a snake under the rock as part of the video game. If there was, they would receive an electric shock on their hand. As time went on, participants were better able to adjust and guess which rock would yield to an electric shock — but the study authors made sure to keep uncertainty levels high throughout the task by changing the odds of a snake appearing.

Scientists measured participants’ uncertainty during the game and their subsequent stress levels, which ended up matching the individuals’ reported stress they felt after completing the game. The authors also monitored the individuals’ pupil dilation and perspiration.

They found that people who were uncertain when they’d be shocked saw a significant increase in anxiety compared to those who knew whether or not to anticipate getting zapped.

But the researchers also found that the higher anxiety levels actually helped the uncertain individuals, because it allowed them to better assess risk.

In other words, the study found that individuals who had the —> Read More