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How stress interferes with critical thinking

An article on EducationWeek.com about stress, math and student performance explores the many reasons why anxiety can take a toll on the brain and affect cognitive performance.

California educator and author Judy Willis said that stress can cause the amygdala – the region of the brain that regulates emotion – to work overtime, thereby hindering the ability of the prefrontal cortex to engage in critical thinking.

Daniel Ansari, principal investigator in a University of Western Ontario stress study, said that students who get anxious about math problems often experience mental distractions.

“This takes up some of their processing and working memory. It’s very much as though individuals with math anxiety use up the brainpower they need for the problem” on worrying, Ansari said, quoted by the source.

Moreover, the article revealed that stressed-out students who were proficient in a given subject scored worse on exams than more relaxed participants who did not have the same level of expertise.

Organizations that wish to lower levels of workplace stress may want to consider employee wellness programs that encourage steps toward physical health as well as tools and resources to deal with anxiety.