A recent study has concluded that cognitive stress, such as distraction, could influence our balanced, logical approach to decision making.
Psychologists Jane Raymond and Jennifer L. O'Brien of Bangor University in the UK wanted to investigate how cognitive stress affects rational decision-making.
In the study, participants played a simple gambling game in which they earned money by deciding between stimuli-in this case, two pictures of different faces.
After making a selection, it became immediately clear whether they had won, lost, or broken even.
Each face was always associated with the same outcome throughout this task.
In the next stage of the experiment, the volunteers were shown each face individually and had to indicate whether they had seen those faces before.
Sometimes volunteers were distracted during this task while other times they were not.
The researchers concluded that distractions significantly impact decision-making.
When volunteers were not distracted, they tended to excel at recognizing faces that had been highly predictive of either winning or losing outcomes.
On the other hand, when they were distracted, they only recognized faces that had been associated with winning.
The authors noted that when we are stressed and need to make a decision, we are "more likely to bear in mind things that have been rewarding and to overlook information predicting negative outcomes."
In other words, the findings have indicated that irrational biases, which favour previous rewards, may guide our behaviour during times of stress.
The study has been reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.