Study finds that brain ignores consequences of decisions made under stress

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    Last semester, freshman pre business major Davis Browning said he was so stressed during finals that he considered dropping out of school. Looking back, he said it was not that serious of an ordeal, but he was hugely stressed during the time. 

    Like Browning, many are guilty of considering or making bad decisions while stressed. A study by the University of Southern California explained why these bad decisions are made. 

    The findings of the study showed when people are stressed, their brains tune out the negative consequences of their decisions and focus on the reward.

    Stephanie Saling, senior strategic communication major, said she made decisions in the past she later regretted. Over winter break, Saling arranged to spend time with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, he canceled their plans. On the spur of the moment, she said she decided she would drive to Iowa to visit with him.

    “About halfway there my check engine light came on, and I was freaking out,” Saling said. 

    She said she did not want to call her parents because she knew they would be upset if they knew her plans. 

    After making the trip from Texas to Iowa and back, she said she discovered her car needed $2,000 worth of repairs, along with the cost of gas she paid to make the trip.  

    “I got to see him for a few days, which was good,” Saling said. “But I didn’t think about how it would affect my car and how much I would end up spending.” 

    Vanessa Miller, instructor in psychology, said stress influences our behavior, physiology and emotions. Stress has the power to impair people physically as well. Once all of the chemicals and hormones in the brain respond to stress, the person’s immune system could be weakened, Miller said.

    The results of this study also helped explain the pathology of stress smokers or stress eaters. Chelsea Hicks, junior film-television-digital media major, said she had struggled with stress eating since she was a child. 

    She said she always used it as a way of coping with her stress and, consequently, she had health issues and visited many doctors. 

    However, she said she made lifestyle changes to counteract the effects of her stress, including seeing a nutritionist to help balance her diet. 

    With the school year coming to an end, Miller advised students to plan ahead in order to avoid stress. She also said students should take time for themselves. Even a five-minute break could help.