Writing down worries can boost performance

London: Worried about your upcoming exam? Just jot down all your anxieties, as this simple act before a stressful situation could help boost your performance greatly, a new study has claimed.

Researchers at the University of Chicago found that the exercise of writing down worries appears to clear the mind and allows it too focus on the job in hand.

The technique is so powerful that students taking an exam showed a 20 per cent improvement in their marks if they used it just before sitting down, they found.

"People are in this stressful situation and they worry about it and the consequences," said Prof Sian Beilock, who led the study.

"These worries are taking up resources that should be dedicated to the task. Putting pen to paper appears to offload these worries," he was quoted as saying by the Telegraph.

Prof Beilock has previously shown that pressure-filled situations can deplete a part of the brain`s processing power known as working memory.

Working memory is lodged in the prefrontal cortex and is a sort of mental "notepad"  that allows people to "work"  with information relevant to the task at hand. But the notepad can also be filled with anxieties – thus losing brain power.

In order to test the theory, researchers recruited 20 college students and gave them two short maths tests.

On the first test, students were told simply to do their best. Before the second test, the researchers created a situation designed to produce stress, by saying students who performed well would receive money and that other students were depending on their performance as part of a team effort.

They also were told that their work would be videotaped, and that maths teachers would review it.

Half of the students then received 10 minutes to write expressively about their feelings about the forthcoming test, and the other half was told to sit quietly.

The writing group performed significantly better than the control group, increasing their marks by five per cent on the first test. The non-writing group saw their marks drop by 12 per cent from the first test, the researchers found.

"It seemed that the non-writing group suffered from choking or from what I call `paralysis from analysis`," said Prof Beilock.

In another experiment researchers found that writing down your worries worked best in the most anxious pupils creating a "level playing field" with their more confident colleagues.

Students highly anxious about taking tests who wrote down their thoughts before the test received an average grade of B , while the non-writing group got an average grade of B-.

"We think this type of writing will help people perform their best in variety of pressure-filled situations whether it is a big presentation to a client, a speech to an audience or even a job interview," Prof Beilock added.