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Stress Inhibits Brain's Ability to Grow 78

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-calm-monkey-is-a-smart-monkey dept.
Travoltus writes "Dr. Professor Elizabeth Gould claims to have shown that, with marmoset primates, stress causes the brain to switch to survival mode in which it thinks only about survival; it simply does not invest new cells in other, more complex thought processes. Dr. Gould also suggests that poverty has an adverse effect on the brain. Dr. Gould is a Princeton researcher who concentrates on studying adult neurogenesis, a phenomenon that, 20 years ago, most scientists believed did not occur."
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Stress Inhibits Brain's Ability to Grow

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  • by Kawahee (901497) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @10:27PM (#14832221) Homepage Journal
    What about the other people that thrive on working to deadlines and with demanding workloads? I'm sure there are many professions that are very stressful that require people to keep themselves 'sharp' and alert at all times.

    Or is there a difference between positive and negative stress against the brain?
    • My guess is they become good at the work they do and stupid at everything else.

      Oh wait... that's called learning!

    • I'm sure there are many professions that are very stressful that require people to keep themselves 'sharp' and alert at all times.

      It doesn't mean they're expanding their minds. They're just keeping busy.

      Or is there a difference between positive and negative stress against the brain?

      There's good stress?
      • I meant the stress that people thrive on. 'Non-consequential' stress, where if you screw up it's not the end of your world. Bad stress is where if you stuff up, you lose your job, your income, your family needs to borrow money etc.
        • I meant the stress that people thrive on. 'Non-consequential' stress, where if you screw up it's not the end of your world.

          Well, I see your point but being in a situation you "enjoy" is not necessarily beneficial. Even those who enjoy the fast paced life may not be in a good position as far as overall physical and mental health.
          • I'd characterize myself as the kind of person GP is talking about. However, I wouldn't characterize what I thrive on as stress, but focus and structure. Nothing makes me happier in the morning than knowing that I can go to work and focus intensely on something all day long, and go home with a sense of accomplishment that I finished it on time. When I have to multitask or I'm working on several non-essential projects at once, I feel dithery and lazy.

            I say this is different from stress because when I was in

      • There's eustress, e.g., an interesting challenge. There's distress, e.g., gotta finish the test in 5 minutes and you're only half done.

        It simply doesn't make sense to lump those two distinct phenomena into a single "stress" and put a negative label on it.
    • stress has many different meanings for different cultures and by different groups. Typically in medicine stress is looked at as something that will stimulate a physiological response. Stress is a needed part of our lives. without stress muscles would not grow, with out stress we would not learn, etc. The challenge is how much stress can one tolerate. Many people find that they become more effective when they are "stresses" the body is reacting to this stimuli, but eventually there is a point where even
    • by benjamindees (441808) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @11:18PM (#14832444) Homepage
      I would say the difference is that there are kinds of stress that are self-induced, and there are kinds that are externally induced.

      Most of the people I've known who thrive on stress are dealing with stress that is completely self-induced, from lawyers to students striving for high marks. Whereas the kinds of stress that the study seems to deal with, group status, annoying sounds, uninteresting environments, are all external and, more importantly, uncontrollable by the subject. That's also the case with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example. It isn't the stress per se, but the lack of ability to influence the cause of the stress, that likely causes damage.

      Sports would be another example of self-induced stress. There is really little consequence in winning or losing, but pushing yourself can be beneficial.
    • Usually, they will already have the experience to do that type of work, and so won't have to be really learning that much. That's why there are so many job requirements that require previous experience.

      As an example, it's a lot easier to learn a new skill in your own time, that when you are in a workplace environment working to a tight deadline.
    • Sure, there's a distinctly different physical sensation between 'challenge' stress and 'icky' stress. You are what you feel, so if you let your feelings guide you make sure to follow the good ones and try to ditch the bad ones. This makes a healthier brain, that succeeds more, leading to further improved stress, further growth, it's a self-feeding thing. It works the same way in reverse. Have a stressed-out unhealthy brain, it makes more mistakes/takes less chances//etc so creates more stress for itself by
    • I'd say that it's possible that this research will show that people who work like that on a permanent basis have less capability for learning new stuff.

      The brain in "survival mode" is a wonderous thing. It can do things that you wouldn't hold possible before. Some people might be taking advantage of that.

      On the other hand, there must also be some disadvantages: There is no such thing as a free lunch. So Evolution didn't make it the 'default'. Maybe less (or none at all?) sex.


    • What about the other people that thrive on working to deadlines and with demanding workloads? I'm sure there are many professions that are very stressful that require people to keep themselves 'sharp' and alert at all times.

      It depends what you would call "stress."

      As a child, did you go to bed hungry?
      Did you grow up only ever knowing one parent?
      Were you stopped by cops on the street and searched, from as young as 10 years of age?
      Were you taken away from your parents at an early age?
      Did you, as
    • I'm sure there are many professions that are very stressful that require people to keep themselves 'sharp' and alert at all times.

      The difference here is between "challenge" and stress. There is basically a channel between challenges that are so insignificant as to provoke boredom, and challenges that are overwhelming and produce stress and anxiety. Between those are challenges that we can handle and are rewarding as a result.

      People who thrive when working to deadlines do so because it isn't especially str
      • Another factor is the metrics used for the judgement that a person has thrived on stress. Did that person 'thrive' or simply survive it. Is the stress a constant or is the success under the gun more the culmination of a few weeks of much less stressful preparation? Once work habits are adjusted, might the same person be MORE productive with less stress? Has QUANTITY of work been mistaken for QUALITY of work? I have seen the output of some people who supposedly thrive on stress at work. It was days late and

    • Or is there a difference between positive and negative stress against the brain?

      Positive Stress:
      Shooting at something

      Negative Stress:
      Something shooting at you

      Or in the primates world...

      Positive Stress:
      Finding something to eat

      Negative Stress:
      Something finding you to eat
    • There is a large difference. I can see it when I compare the source code I write today to what I used to write before my layoff in 2001. I can see it in my political attitudes before 2000 and after. I can see it in my own abiliity to trust other human beings now, and in the growth of bigotry in my mind. I completely agree with this study- and I'd say that while postive stress can concentrate the mind on the task on hand, negative stress is extremely destructive to sanity.
    • Although this is almost a philosophical question, from a scientific standpoint there's very little difference (that I've ever heard of) between positive and negative stress. They all create the same reactions in the body. It probably has more to do with chronic vs. acute stress. Positive stress (e.g. getting a new job and having to change your lifestyle to accomodate it, having a new baby, heading off to college) are typically more of an acute nature and therefore usually don't have the negative side eff
    • Well, we certainly know our President's intellect has not been adversely affected by job stress.
    • eustress/distress
  • Interesting, but with few exceptions, humans are not marmosets.

    There is a bit more happening in my brain than in a marmoset's.
    • Maybe the marmosets were so free from stress that they developed human-sized brains.
    • There is a bit more happening in my brain than in a marmoset's.

      Maybe theres more going on in your brain, but I didn't get the impression that thats really a factor here. It doesn't seem to be the amount of activity thats in question, but rather the ways in which animal brains works.

      Would you say that your brain is so different from the brains of other animals that they don't share basic characteristics?

      How often do you hear about experiments done on mice; do you stop and point out that mice are nothin
      • I agree that the basic physiological operations (e.g. habituation, etc.) are most probably conserved up and down the line from me to marmoset. However there is more to neuropsychology than just these basic ops.

        And yes, I do not leap to assume that just because something is true in a mouse, it must necessarily be true in anything but a mouse, if that someting is too far above the level of the most basic operation. That said, I suspect that TFA is more correct than not, and that stress does have a powerful
    • by Clover_Kicker (20761) <clover_kicker@yahoo.com> on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @11:22PM (#14832455)
      > There is a bit more happening in my brain than in a marmoset's.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
      • Core sample, we need a core sample!
      • Agreed. And we'll assume that my ability to post on /. does not necessarily meet the requirement.

        But consider that there are many ways of dealing with stress. What may be incapacitating to you may be exhilirating to someone else. And vice versa. Also, extraordinarily stressful long-term situations may well be accompanied by long-term physical deprivation, such as subsistence (or worse) nutrition which has pretty conclusively been shown to limit neurological development.
  • Worker productivity is dependent on there being little stress in the workplace, at least stress concerning job security. As the employee becomes more stressed, they'll do whatever they can to keep their job, even if it means cutting corners. This is bad for a company overall, even though it might produce results in the short term. Healthy and happy rodents...err employees make the best workers.
  • the poverty and the stress are related, because being poor is a lot more stressful than being rich. Real stress, like survival type stress.
    • by Pantero Blanco (792776) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @11:07PM (#14832406)
      The article actually goes into that.

      "The social implications of this research are staggering. If boring environments, stressful noises, and the primate's particular slot in the dominance hierarchy all shape the architecture of the brain--and Gould's team has shown that they do--then the playing field isn't level. Poverty and stress aren't just an idea: they are an anatomy. Some brains never even have a chance."

      Now, I don't think that poverty alone would cause the stifled neurogenesis they're talking about, but if you combine it with a lot of the other stressful things that tend to come along with poverty (crime-filled environment, fractured/broken families, poor education), that might do it.
      • Replying to undo "Redundant" that was supposed to be "Insightful." Sorry.
      • I'm pretty sure that that's what's inferred.
      • Now, I don't think that poverty alone would cause the stifled neurogenesis they're talking about, but if you combine it with a lot of the other stressful things that tend to come along with poverty (crime-filled environment, fractured/broken families, poor education), that might do it.

        While interesting, this is one study where the results of animal experiments may not transfer at all well to humans. It's not unreasonable to think that humans, whose *primary* survival adaptation is the ability to think a

        • But that is *exactly* what the article is suggesting: that under survival stress, primate brains going all the way back to the marmosets concentrate their learning entirely on subjects that help them survive and *nothing* else. This explains the phenomenon of "street smarts" in poor urban human populations, where somebody who completely failed at school and is unable to read nevertheless is able to survive, but wastes all their money on alcohol, drugs, and TV.
  • People have linked poverty and stress for years, as well as poverty and IQ. Come on....tell me something new please.
    • What's new is in the details. You can't take some extremely broadly generalised summary of new information and then claim it isn't new simply because that extremely broadly generalised version is also the generalised version of something else. You might as well have said "scientists have been making studies all the time, this is just another study, what's new?"

      Sorry if it isn't that exciting to you, but real science isn't usually terribly exciting ... lots and lots of excruciating details revealed very slo

  • All I have to do is stop stressing out and all my stress-causing problems will go away.
    • All I have to do is stop stressing out and all my stress-causing problems will go away.

      Smoking the marijuana has the same effect. It's even better to older Pink Floyd albums.
  • by JanneM (7445) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @11:20PM (#14832447) Homepage
    So, if you're free of stress your brain will grow, on the other hand. And the more you relax, the more it grows. Your head gets heavier, which makes it all the harder to get off the couch, making you relax for even longer, creating a positive feedback loop.

    And as the skull is of fixed size, it means the brain gets denser and denser, until, in a paroxysmic cataclysm (or a cataclysmic paroxysm; the data is a bit fuzzy here), the earth is destroyed as ten million couch potatoes all have their brains collapse into black holes after a week-long Tonight Show marathon.

    Dangerous stuff, this science thing.
  • We must not fear; fear is the mind-killer.
  • Maybe now companies will (someday...) realize that they need not to put their IT workers under tight deadlines because they'll harm their productivity.

    Our brains need rest.
    • That's doubtful, since (from what I understand) the stress would primarily hurt them in the long term, and pushing the workers results in more short-term productivity. Most companies aren't worried about their workers being nervous wrecks at forty, as long as they manage to get New Snazazz 2006 out on time.
      • Agreed. The obvious solution is to fire all workers after a certain number of hours on the job, and share records with other companies regarding the amount of stress that workers have been placed under, in order to keep 'unecessary elements' out of the work force.

        I'll give George and Dick a call, and we'll have a draft of the legislature on your desk by morning, Mr. Corporate Bigwig.
  • This seems like strong evidence against placing young babies in childcare. Gould herself documented that depriving newborn rats of their mothers for 3 hours a day permanently inhibited their brain. But yet she went back to lecturing 4 days after giving birth?
    • As a parent... (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ... I can say that such "evidence" won't matter. You have to make a choice, lose everything and live on the streets so you can be with your kids, or you get childcare. At least, that's the reality for many other parents I know. And God knows that if our business failed at this point, our kids would be in childcare as we took whatever 9 to 5s we could get to keep them clothed and fed.

      Our society(US) don't give a shit about things like scientific evidence for stress or optimal child development, or family, et
  • Poverty negatively affects the health of the poor.

    Gee, what news. I know I'm blown away.

    I mean.. really?!
  • Cubicled employers are similar to boxed lab animals, which had simple brains and no brain growth.

    In other words: The currently fashionable cube farms with stress make the programmers stupider.

    This just goes to verify my theory:
    The purpose of work environment is to subjugate people, not to produce.
  • ... about certain co-workers and myself, depending on what's going on. ;-)
  • I predict that this knowledge will become another elephant in the room.

    If an employee becomes depressed and has a high stress job, can it be considered an occupational disease for the purposes of compensation? Might it be treated as brain damage in the courts?

    On a similar note, this suggests a revamping of education. Surely brain damaging stress is to be avoided in any system meant to promote learning.

    Depression seems to be more common now than in the past. It could be that it's just more reported now

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