Stress is often understood as a kind of psychological pain. In some circumstances, it can motivate a person to overcome difficulties and develop new skills, but its harmful effects on cognitive abilities cannot be denied. For instance, as the study by Gutshall et al. (2017) demonstrates, occupational stress leads to reductions in a person’s working memory, and there is a negative link between the size of these reductions and the years of professional experience. Stress often causes short-term reductions in a person’s cognitive abilities and performance simply because an individual’s thoughts become occupied with memories and reflections linked with issues that have not been solved yet. Personally, I have experienced this effect many times; for instance, I remember failing one test at school simply due to the inability to concentrate on questions after a serious argument with another person.
As for emotions, especially negative ones, they can also hinder an individual’s cognitive abilities and produce mental blocks. For instance, the fear of making mistakes and being criticized often causes “emotional barriers” to approaching any new and challenging problems (Coon et al., 2018, p. 327). Also, emotions’ negative influences on problem-solving abilities can be observed when it comes to tasks that are linked to stereotypes. Thus, it has been shown that exposure to stereotypes about student-athletes’ intellectual abilities and students’ resulting fear of being perceived as unintelligent can negatively influence these students’ results on math tests (Hsu & Li, 2020). When it comes to positive affect, it can be potentially helpful for a person’s ability to think creatively. From my subjective experiences, it is much easier to come up with fresh and interesting ideas when being in a good mood. As a student, I have noticed that this tendency often manifests itself when I work on written assignments.
Coon, D., Mitterer, J. O., & Martini, T. S. (2018). Psychology: Modules for active learning (14th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Gutshall, C. L., Hampton Jr, D. P., Sebetan, I. M., Stein, P. C., & Broxtermann, T. J. (2017). The effects of occupational stress on cognitive performance in police officers. Police Practice and Research, 18(5), 463-477.
Hsu, Y., & Li, Y. (2020). Influences of stereotype threat on the mathematics performance of high school athletes. Current Psychology, 1-9.