New York: Do you think that a minor tiff with your girlfriend can spoil your relationship forever or the arrival of a new boss at the workplace is threat to your career? Chill out now else you will end up making bad decisions amid uncertainty.
According to new research, anxious people have more trouble deciding how best to handle life's uncertainties and may even catastrophize minor issues.
In gauging people's response to unpredictability, scientists at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Oxford found that people prone to high anxiety have a tougher time reading the environmental cues that could help them avoid a bad outcome.
The findings hint at a glitch in the brain's higher-order decision-making circuitry that could eventually be targeted in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
"Anxiety may be linked to difficulty in using information about whether the situations we face daily, including relationship dynamics, are stable or not, and deciding how to react," said study lead author Sonia Bishop, assistant professor of psychology at the UC Berkeley.
The challenge for a person prone to anxiety is assessing the situation in context of what else has happened recently and responding appropriately.
For the study, Bishop and fellow researchers gauged the decision-making skills of 31 young and middle-aged adults whose baseline anxiety levels ranged from low to extreme.
The researchers' measures also included eye-tracking to detect pupil dilation, an indicator that the brain has released norepinephrine that helps send signals to multiple brain regions to increase alertness and readiness to act.
Participants were asked to play a computerised game in which they repeatedly chose between two shapes, one of which, if selected, would deliver a mild to moderate electrical shock.
To avoid getting shocked, participants needed to keep track of the shape that most frequently delivered electrical jolts.
During one part of the game, the shock-delivering shape did not change for a long stretch of time.
However, during another part of the game, it changed more frequently.
Highly anxious people had more trouble than their less anxious counterparts adjusting to this and thus avoiding shocks.
"Their choices indicated they were worse at figuring out whether they were in a stable or erratic environment and using this to make the best choices possible," Bishop noted.
The findings help explain why anxious individuals may find decision-making under uncertainty hard as they struggle to pick up on clues as to whether they are in a stable or changing situation," the authors concluded.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Neuroscience.