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UC Berleley and Oxford research on anxiety

How anxiety leads your team to make bad decisions

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You may want to go easy on the most easily-stressed members of your team, as they’re likely to make worse decisions in that frame of mind.

When things get unpredictable, highly anxious people have been found to be the worst at making decisions, in new research by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Oxford.

In studying responses to unpredictability, the research scientists found that people prone to high anxiety have a tougher time reading the environmental cues that could have actually helped them avoid a bad outcome.

As a result, it is harder time for them to manage uncertainties at work and in life. This hints at a glitch in the brain’s higher-order decision-making circuitry, with their brain making things out worse than they are.

For example, they may interpret a lovers’ tiff as a doomed relationship, or a workplace change as a career threat, in effect catastrophising them.

ALSO READ: Millennials are skipping work because of anxiety

The study’s principal investogator, and assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, Sonia Bishop, said that anxiety makes it difficult to decide whether the situations we face daily are stable or not, and deciding how to react.

“It’s a bit like being Alice in Wonderland, trying to work out if the same rules apply or if everything is different and if so, what choices you should make,” she added.

At work, this implies high anxiety can disrupt the ability to make informed decisions.

The researchers studied the decision making skills of 31 young and middle-aged adults, whose baseline anxiety levels ranged from low to extreme; by getting them to play a game in which they repeatedly chose between two shapes, one of which, if selected, would deliver a mild to moderate electrical shock.

To avoid getting shocked, participants needed to keep track of the shape that most frequently delivered electrical jolts. However, the shock-delivering shape changed at varying frequencies.

Highly anxious people had more trouble than their less anxious counterparts adjusting to this and thus avoiding shocks.

ALSO READ: Employees without ‘natural light’ are more stressed

“Their choices indicated they were worse at figuring out whether they were in a stable or erratic environment and using this to make the best choices possible,” Bishop said.

“Our findings help explain why anxious individuals may find decision-making under uncertainty hard as they struggle to pick up on clues as to whether they are in a stable or changing situation,” Bishop said.

Image: Shutterstock

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