Healthy living

Writing down worries boosts performance

stress 10 minutes writing all that is needed

Writing down your worries just before a stressful event like an exam or presentation can boost your performance, new research suggests.

US researchers found that students who wrote about their fears for just 10 minutes before their exams significantly improved their scores compared with those who didn't write.

"Despite the fact that people are often motivated to perform their best, the pressure-filled situations in which important tests, presentations and matches occur can cause people to perform below their ability level instead," said professor Sian Beilock at the University of Chicago.

Previous work by the same researchers showed that high pressure situations can deplete part of the brain's processing power known as working memory.

Working memory is a sort of mental scratch pad that allows people to retrieve and use information relevant to the task at hand.

But when worries mount up, the working memory people normally use to succeed can become overburdened. This can sap the brain power necessary to excel.

In the study, 20 college students were given two short maths tests. On the first test, the students were told to do their best.

Before the second test, the students were told their work would be videotaped, assessed by maths teachers and they would be awarded money depending on their performance to put them under greater pressure.

Half of the students then received 10 minutes to write expressively about their feelings about the upcoming test (expressive writing group) and the other half was told to sit quietly (control group).

"The expressive writing group performed significantly better than the control group," the authors wrote in the journal Science.

"Control participants 'choked under pressure,' showing a 12 per cent accuracy drop from pre-test to post-test, whereas students who expressed their thoughts before the high-pressure test showed a significant five per cent math accuracy improvement."

The professor said the technique may also help with other high pressure situations.

"We think this type of writing will help people perform their best in variety of pressure-filled situations - whether it is a big presentation to a client, a speech to an audience or even a job interview," she added.

This article was published on Fri 14 January 2011



Image © konradbak - Fotolia.com


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