Two wrongs don’t make a right, but when it comes to cognitive neuroscience, sometimes two simultaneous impairments counterintuitively make for improved performance. Previous research has established that decisions made either under stress or while multitasking tend to be impaired. Extending this research in the June issue of Cognitive Neuroscience, Pabst and colleagues examined the combined effect of these impairments on decision making, uncovering a paradoxical result. A simple prediction might hold that this combination of impairments would combine or synthesize, resulting in even worse decision making; puzzlingly, however, Pabst et al. found that decisions made by stressed, multitasking individuals performed better than a control group acting in the absence of either factor. The most likely explanation, according to the authors, is that the combination of stress and dual task monitoring induces a cognitive switch from serial to parallel goal monitoring, potentially by means of elevated dopamine concentrations in areas of the brain implicated in goal monitoring.
- Pabst, S., Schoofs, D., Pawlikowski, M., Brand, M., & Wolf, O. T. (2013). Paradoxical effects of stress and an executive task on decisions under risk. Behavioral Neuroscience, 127(3), 369–379.