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Stress can lead to risky choices

According to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stress can compromise the decisions you make. The team suggests that they were able to locate the area in the brain that is responsible for making decision that are bad as it becomes impaired under stress.

This study arose from another study performed by the same team in the past. In the previous study the team observed that the circuit in the brain that controls the cost benefit conflict begins in the medial prefrontal cortex that is responsible for mood control, and continues into striosomes in the striatum which is linked with motivation, habit formation, and reward reinforcement.

In this current study the team opted out of using optogenetics, instead mice were exposed to short periods of stress daily over a time span of 2 weeks. Results were that prior to stress normal rodents would go towards the dimmer light and weaker drink half of the time. The chocolate milk mixture ratio was gradually increased in the dimmer side and then the rodents began to pick that side more often. It was observed that when the rodents were chronically stressed they continued to opt for the side with the bright light with better drink even if the drink concentration on the dimmer side was increased greatly.

The previous study yielded the same findings, in which that the animal ignores the high cost to obtain the high reward, and suggest that the circuit merges information on negative and positive aspects of options available, which helps the brain to come up with a decision. They also observed that the changes can last for months. But the researchers were able to restore normal decision making in the stress rodents using optogenetics. This is an indicator that the prefronto-striosome circuit stays impaired after chronic stress and may possibly be manipulated to bring back normal behavior in humans with disorders that can cause poor decision making.

Regardless if you are stressed or not and want to make better decisions there are things you can do to help you make your choices. You can try practicing yoga and meditation to help reduce negative emotions. You can remove yourself from the situation to think about a conflict from another perspective to consider different manners the situations could happen, and think about compromises. You can try to develop emotion intelligence by identifying your emotions and managing them. Take the environment into consideration, lighting can affect emotions in both negative and positive manners. And lastly, try not to make rash decisions, which will help you stay focused on the most relevant information.

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