Apr 142008

There is such a thing as eustress. I first read about this idea in The 4-Hour Work Week and you can read up more about it at Wikipedia. From Wiki: eustress is a positive form of stress, usually related to desirable events in person’s life. Causes of eustress:

This, for me, is a very useful mental change because a lot of our emotional states are very similar physiologically and it seems that we mentally make attributions as to why we are experiencing those states after the fact. What does that mean? That means that I can stop being worried about being nervous before a big performance or a public speaking event. I’m not nervous, but I do have a heightened awareness. Like in 300, “It is not fear that grips him, but a heightened sense of things.”

Two fascinating studies on this (and nothing else in this post so skip it if you’re not into amusing studies):

The first: Imagine that you are brought into a room and given an injection that causes physiological arousal (but you don’t know that) and then you’re led into a room and asked to wait there. There’s another person there and you get to talking and he says that he got the same injection as you. Soon he starts to act in an angry fashion and gets really excited. How do you feel? Believing that they were given the same injection, the subjects began to mimic the other person who was, in fact, a confederate actor. Sometimes the actor pretended to be angry and sometimes pretended to be elated and joyful and both times the subjects mimicked the actor.

The second study is also excellent. Imagine you’re a man, in the woods, crossing a 450-foot long bridge and you’re approached by an attractive female and asked to participate in a psychological survey about how scenic vistas affect creativity. After the survey she gives you her number and says to call her if you have any questions. Do you call her? She’s attractive after all. Well, as before, she is a confederate. She approached men both while crossing this scary bridge and after they had crossed it and had a rest. The results? More of the men who were approached while crossing the bridge called to ask her for a date than the ones who had rested after crossing the bridge and thus were not physiologically aroused. The idea is that the men who were approached on the bridge mistook their arousal caused by fear as arousal caused by her physical attractiveness. Similar results were found when attractive men approached women, so it’s not just men being sexist.

Another possible candidate for this situation is that I’ve heard that people find more people physically attractive and more distracting after they’ve started excersizing regularly. At first, I thought that this might have something to do with increased testosterone, however it may well be a misattribution of arousal situation, and there have been studies done on this sort of situation.

Wiki on Misattribution of Arousal

The concept is similar to what happens in the Capgras Delusion, which is where you believe that people and animals you know (like your family) have been replaced by impostors. Excellent talk about that at TED.

  2 Responses to “Not All Stress is Bad”

  1. […] Remember that sometimes it’s not fear I feel but a good kind of heightened awareness, called eustress which feels a lot like fear or nervousness but it’s a good thing. Like in 300, “It is […]

  2. […] This is called the Singer-Schachter theory of emotion. I’ve written about an experiment about it here. In the same blog entry, I talked about Tim Ferriss‘ reattribution of certain physiological […]

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