Stress Can Help Us Do Well

(p. C3) “We’re bombarded with information about how bad stress is,” says Jeremy Jamieson, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who specializes in stress. But the conventional view, he says, fails to appreciate the many ways in which physical and psychological tension can help us to perform better.
In research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2010, Prof. Jamieson tested his theory with college students who were preparing to take the Graduate Record Examination, which is used for admission to Ph.D. programs. He invited 60 students to take a practice GRE and collected saliva samples from them beforehand to get baseline measures of their levels of alpha-amylase, a hormonal indicator of stress. He told them that the goal of the study was to examine how the physiological stress response affects performance.
He then gave half the students a brief pep talk to help them rethink their pre-exam nervousness. “People think that feeling anxious while taking a standardized test will make them do poorly,” he told them. “However, recent research suggests that stress doesn’t hurt performance on these tests and can even help performance. People who feel anxious during a test might actually do better…. If you find yourself feeling anxious, simply remind yourself that your stress could be helping you do well.”
It worked: Students who received the mind-set intervention scored higher on the practice exam than those in the control group. Nor could the difference in GRE scores be attributed to differences in ability: Students had been randomly assigned to the two groups and didn’t differ, on average, in their SAT scores or college GPAs.

For the full commentary, see:
KELLY MCGONIGAL. “Stressed Out? Embrace It; To perform under pressure, research finds that welcoming anxiety is more helpful than calming down.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 16, 2015): C3.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 15, 2015, and has the title “Use Stress to Your Advantage; To perform under pressure, research finds that welcoming anxiety is more helpful than calming down.”)

McGonigal’s book, related to her commentary quoted above, is:
McGonigal, Kelly. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. New York: Avery, 2015.

The research article mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:
Jamieson, Jeremy P., Wendy Berry Mendes, Erin Blackstock, and Toni Schmader. “Turning the Knots in Your Stomach into Bows: Reappraising Arousal Improves Performance on the GRE.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46, no. 1 (Jan. 2010): 208-12.

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