Why do smart people suffer more under pressure?

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Robert Maurer
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We don't all react the same under pressure. There are those who give their best when they are under pressure and those who feel overwhelmed, who suffer to the point of being paralyzed. Researchers from Iowa State University have found that intelligent people are more likely to suffer under pressure.

People with high IQs tend to feel uncomfortable in complex and changing environments. Because? Their mental capacity makes them more vulnerable to performance anxiety and ruminant thoughts. In other words: being able to predict anything that could go wrong works against them, generating more concern, which ends up compromising their performance.



Your performance will depend on the goals you have set for yourself

These psychologists asked 261 business students to participate in a stock market experiment. They divided them into three groups, to which they gave different objectives: performance, learning or giving the best of themselves.

As the students analyzed the task, the researchers began to manipulate the conditions to make the exercise more complex and see how the participants reacted to the changes.

So they found that students with a higher CI performed fairly similarly to those with a lower CI when the goal was to measure performance. However, when asked only to "do their best", the more intelligent students outperformed the rest.

A hyperreactive brain

A previous study conducted at Seattle Pacific University had already revealed that people with a lower CI were more likely to develop from anxiety to ruminant thoughts. These psychologists proposed the "Theory of Intellectual Overexcitability", based on the concept of "Psychological and Physiological Overexcitability" introduced by psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski in the 60s.


In practice, being only 2% smarter than the average is associated with a state of overexcitability, an unusually intense reaction to an environmental threat, which can be anything from a noise that surprises us to confrontation with another person or her. pressure for performance.


This state of overexcitability is also related to a marked tendency to ruminate and worry, which is due to a highly connected brain. Normally our brains remain active when we do something but when the mind is distracted, many of these circuits are "turned off" until we concentrate on another task.

The brains of the smartest people don't work that way. It is more excitable and it is more difficult for it to "shut down", which causes people to not be able to fully relax and react intensely to situations. This can also lead them to feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable, which would be the expression of seeing, hearing and thinking "too much".

If the person is unable to get out of this vicious circle, they will be more stressed and prone to developing mental disorders. Indeed, many geniuses of the past, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, were plagued by excessive arousal that led them to suffer from generalized affective and mood disorders. Isaac Newton's prodigious creativity, for example, was the product of his intense and prolonged rumination. He meditated a lot on his past mistakes and became overly concerned, which caused him a severe nervous breakdown in 1693.

Learn to reduce the pressure

This experiment suggests that our performance in certain activities depends not only on our intellectual abilities, but also on the goals we set ourselves. If we feel that we are under pressure and that they are judging us, our results will be worse than they would be if we had simply decided to give our best.



Intelligence, understood only as those cognitive skills that allow you to solve problems, will not allow you to go very far in an uncertain and changing environment like the current one. You also need a good dose of emotional intelligence.


This means that, under pressure, you have to learn to manage emotions and change the target. Instead of focusing solely on the results, you need to focus on the process. Instead of focusing on the final goal, you have to set many small goals that allow you to reach the final goal and, instead of facing the problem with a fixed mindset, you have to approach it with a growth mindset that allows you to learn.


In this way you can take the psychological distance that allows you to remain calm and improve your performance, without feeling that pressure that makes you feel uncomfortable and ends up overwhelming you.

 

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