Just Explain It: Students & Stress


For some students, just going to school can be very stressful.  Add standardized tests to the mix, and even a gifted student can be unnerved.   

Performing well on high school competency exams opens the door to a student’s academic future like never before.  In some cases, the pressure has even filtered down to elementary school…where competition for collegiate scholarships has found a surprising new starting place.

In this Just Explain It, we’ll break down the science behind why some students perform well under pressure, while others don’t.  We’ll also look into what can be done to help students perform better in stressful situations.

Researchers have found that the success of some students can be linked to how fast dopamine is cleared from their brain.

Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps transmit signals between nerve cells of the brain.  The chemical has many functions, playing important roles in behavior and cognition, attention, working memory and learning. Our brains work best when there’s not too much or too little dopamine.

That’s where what’s known as the COMT gene comes into play - and it comes in the form of two variants. The fast variant removes dopamine quickly and the slow variant removes the chemical gradually.

Studies of people in two environments were conducted…one under normal conditions, the other under stressful conditions.  It was found that under normal conditions, people with the slow-acting COMT gene excelled when performing mental tasks.   Under those conditions, people with the fast-acting gene didn’t perform as well.

The outcome was reversed when people were subjected to a great deal of stress.  That’s because dopamine overloads the brains of people with the slow-acting gene  – hampering their ability.  You see, dopamine rises in stressful situations.  So in this circumstance, the fast-acting gene keeps the brain’s dopamine at normal levels.

The COMT gene variants have also been shown to actually predict the activity of regions of the brain involved in cognition and emotional responses, said David Goldman, a National Institutes of Health scientist and author of “Our Genes Our Choices.“ This gene is an example of the genetic reasons why people’s brains work a little differently, and how the expression of these differences is altered by the contexts in which people find themselves, and choose.

How this all works has been studied in real life situations.  Researchers in Taiwan followed 779 students who took the national competency exam.  Under more stress than usual, students with the slow-acting enzymes scored eight percent lower on average than those with the fast-acting ones.   

There’s no need to worry though, it’s not either/or for most people.   About 50 percent of all people inherit one of each gene variation from their parents.  So that means most people have medium acting enzymes. The other half is split between fast and slow acting genes.

Researchers also found that experience leveled the playing field.  The more practice someone had at performing tasks, the less likely they were to melt under pressure.

We know that practice makes perfect, but here are some other things that can help students reduce stress.  

1.  Eat healthy.  Meals should include fruits and vegetables.
2.  Exercise regularly.
3.  Do things you enjoy often like, hobbies, sports and reading.
4.  Make sure you get enough sleep.
5.  Learn relaxation techniques like, meditation and deep breathing.

Research from the University of Missouri shows that being involved in school activities like, chess, spelling bees or science fairs gives students a chance to perform.  Some of these moments might be very stressful, but there’s a chance they could payoff in the end.  

Did you learn something? Do you have a topic you’d like explained?  Give us your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter using #JustExplainIt. 
Loading...
  • Business Highlights

    ___ Not so fast cordcutters_cable's not going anywhere Cord cutters rejoiced last week after HBO and CBS announced plans to sell stand-alone streaming services, a move that cable and satellite television ...

  • Video of woman giving birth outside Egyptian hospital triggers outcry

    CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian hospital director was suspended on Monday after a video purporting to show a woman giving birth on the facility's doorstep caused an uproar among citizens tired of overcrowded and understaffed medical centres. The woman's husband, Ahmed Musa Abdel Fattah, was quoted by the website of state-run newspaper Al-Ahram as saying the couple were turned away by hospital staff who told them the only doctor was busy performing a Caesarean section on another woman. ...

  • Parents pay the price for children’s student debt
    Parents pay the price for children’s student debt

    Parents who want to provide for their children's college education are being stretched to the brink with student loans.

  • Video shows rescuer carrying man from burning home

    FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A man ran into a burning home in central California and came out carrying a man who lives inside over his shoulder as flames popped and exploded behind him.

  • Woman saved from California chimney, then arrested
    Woman saved from California chimney, then arrested

    THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — A woman stuck in the chimney of a Southern California house has been rescued and arrested.

  • Brad Pitt's 'Fury' all the rage at U.S., Canada box office
    Brad Pitt's 'Fury' all the rage at U.S., Canada box office

    By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brad Pitt's gritty World War Two drama "Fury" conquered all box office foes over the weekend, ringing up $23.5 million in ticket sales at theaters in the United States and Canada. "Fury" kicked two-time box office leader "Gone Girl" to second place. The thriller starring Ben Affleck collected $17.8 million from Friday through Sunday, according to data from tracking firm Rentrak. Animated movie "The Book of Life" earned the No. 3 spot with a debut of $17 million at domestic theaters. ...

  • Michelle Knight says she now forgives kidnapper
    Michelle Knight says she now forgives kidnapper

    CHARDON, Ohio (AP) — One of the three women held captive in a Cleveland home for about a decade told a crowd she has been able to forgive her kidnapper and find peace in her life.

  • Climate talks told to ease rifts as heat busts record
    Climate talks told to ease rifts as heat busts record

    Paris (AFP) - Fresh UN climate talks opened in Bonn on Monday with a plea for nations to overcome rifts as scientists reported record global temperatures for the month of September.

Follow Yahoo! News