In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jeremy Jamieson of the University of Rochester explains why stress can be useful for performers.
Jeremy Jamieson is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester where his research seeks to understand how stress impacts decisions, emotions, and performance. He is particularly interested in what the physiological indicators of bodily and mental states say about the mechanisms underlying the effects of stress. He earned his Ph.D. at Northeastern University.
Dr. Jeremy Jamieson – Performance and Beneficial Stress
We typically use the word stress to refer to situations in which we feel pressured, judged, or over-worked. The media bombards us with information detailing all the negative things about stress. But stress is not always bad.
Faced with performance situations that require active responding, our stress systems help deliver oxygen to our brains and mobilize energy stores. There is nothing inherently wrong with racing hearts or sweaty palms. Unfortunately, stress gets a bad rap. Signs of arousal are automatically perceived as indicating nervousness and signaling poor performance. When we feel overwhelmed or scared, we react with a threat response. Our heart delivers less blood and oxygen to the body and we freeze up. On the other hand, when we feel up to the challenge, our body increases cardiac output, enabling us to perform better.
My research seeks to improve stress responses by changing perceptions. In one such study we had participants give a public speech. Before beginning, half read instructions outlining the benefits of stress. The remaining participants received no information. During the speech, the group instructed to reappraise stress as adaptive increased their cardiac output and gave better speeches compared to participants who received no instructions.
Although most advice for coping with stress says to relax, in active situations like public speaking or job interviews, reframing how we conceptualize stress is a better strategy. So next time you are preparing to give a presentation, remind yourself that your pounding heart is there to help.