If you are a naturally anxious person, it's worth keeping an eye on your stress levels – high pressure can reduce nervous people's confidence in competitive tasks, such as fighting for a sought-after job.
By looking at how stressful events affected intellectual confidence in 200 volunteers, researchers in Switzerland showed how a person's anxiety level determines whether a person becomes more or less sure of their own intellectual ability.
The participants were asked to take two online tests – one to measure IQ and one to assess anxiety. A week later, half the people were put into a situation designed to raise acute social stress, such as a mock job interview or calculating complex mathematical equations in front of a big audience.
They were then asked to compete against another, unknown person in an IQ test. The proportion who agreed among those not put through the stressful situation was constant across anxious and calm people, but for those who had been put through it, the results told a very different story.
In people with very low anxiety, stress actually increased their competitive confidence compared with their unstressed counterparts, making them more likely to take part. By comparison, confidence dropped in highly anxious individuals.
The findings suggest stress is a catalytic force acting on a person's competitive confidence, influencing how competent they end up appearing in a stressful situation. According to the researchers, not having enough confidence can impact our work, since we are less likely to make “the kind of decisions that give us a financial and social edge over others”. The results are published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
"People often interpret self-confidence as competence," said Carmen Sandi, a lead researcher in the study. "So if the stress of, say, a job interview, makes a person over-confident, they will be more likely to be hired - even though they might not be more competent than other candidates. This would be the case for people with low anxiety."
Here are six scientifically proven ways you can reduce stress at work.