Ok, so we’re onto day 2 of the RED project. I changed the name. ROD sounds like a dude… RED sounds like a colour I have a hard time seeing (I’m colour blind). It stands for Research Every Day. Let’s see if it sticks – RED project does sound cooler than ROD project anyway. I’m excited about it!
What they did:
- Put people in MRI machines and took functional MRIs (to see which areas of the brain were being activated at different times)
- They showed them playing cards and had them guess if the next card would be higher or lower
- If they got it right, they were rewarded with money (reward) if they got it wrong it cost them money (punishment) to varying degrees
- Half of the people had their hand/wrist covered in an icy cold glove to make them uncomfortable before the card guessing – They did this to simulate being stressed out (The nerves for pain and temperature are REALLY just nerves carry the signal for stress, so they cause a similar effect on the brain… beside they can’t ACTUALLY cause the people real pain or the study wouldn’t be approved for funding)
What they found:
- TOTAL cortisol (a stress hormone) was elevated in the cold hand AKA stressed group versus the control group but NOT immediate levels of cortisol
- The control group responded with reward areas of the brain lighting up when they were rewarded and not as much when they were “punished”
- The Stressed group didn’t respond significantly to the reward unless it was high in magnitude but DID respond more to punishment
What does it mean?
- Stress affects your physiology in a way that is too long winded to explain here however, from what this study is saying, those who were stressed showed different decision making abilities than those who were NOT stressed
- Stressed Folks were more likely to respond to negative stimulus, meaning when you’re stressed out, it’s easy to focus on the downside of things. Have you ever been upset and had someone “trying to cheer you up” and it didn’t work at all? I have. The positive stimulus doesn’t have as much of an effect as if you were happy
- Think of this scenario. You’re not feeling fantastic when you wake up, maybe a cold is coming on, you think. Luckily the coffee is already made, since it was set on a timer last night, but as you roll over in bed you realize you’re 10 minutes later than you expected to be. This is aggravating and causes you to pick up your pace a bit, then WHAM! you stub your toe and it’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt. The pain is amplified so much more by the stress. You grab your things in a hurry and leave with a grunt in response to your spouse’s, “I love you! Have a great day!”
- Now a contrasting scenario: It’s Wednesday evening and you’re just relaxing with a friend. You remember a “hilarious” youtube video you saw over the weekend and realize this person HAS to see it. You watch it together and it’s funny, but for some reason you and your friend aren’t rolling on the ground crying because you’re laughing so hard. You also haven’t been catching up and laughing before the video was shown, and you aren’t as excited about what else you’re going to do that friday/saturday night. All those positive emotions amplified how funny the video was – as well as feeding off each others laughter on the weekend, but not now.
- The stress response to the cold wasn’t transient – like it would be if a bear wandered into the MRI room with the people… it was longer lived and I would suggest that it is more realistic to the stress we deal with in every day life… Low level and “annoying”… but we can “deal” with it.
- THEN, the stressed people needed a greater magnitude of stimulus to respond. This sound like anything? Kids seeking “thrills”, people doing extreme things versus being able to appreciate the small things in life, or things being “The WORST thing in the world” versus “oh…. darn… oh well.”
- These stressed out people seek greater stimulus…. Sounds like society today (playing Call of Duty) versus what people would consider “the good old days” (playing Tag, hide and seek or cards?)
It’s interesting to me, because their program offering shows the state of physiology you’re in directly and dynamically affects the way you respond to information. The SAME information could then make you either happier or less happy, all depending on your mood.
It reminds me of my all time favourite book/quote by James Allen