"Most of us feel stressed about all the things we need to do - we have to-do lists, not just on slips of paper we carry with us or on our iPhones, but also in our heads," psychological scientist and study author David Rosenbaum of Pennsylvania State University said.
"Our findings suggest that the desire to relieve the stress of maintaining that information in working memory can cause us to over-exert ourselves physically or take extra risks," he said.
Rosenbaum and colleagues Lanyung Gong and Cory Adam Potts were conducting research to explore the trade-off between the weight of a load and how far people would carry it.
In testing their experimental setup, the researchers stumbled on a surprising finding: Participants often chose the action that took more physical effort, choosing the near bucket even though that meant they would have to carry it further.
The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.