Decision-making under stress

We already looked at the domains of information processing, cognitive load, and the effect of cognitive fatigue on performance. Stress is a huge factor involved in these processes and therefore we would like to dive a bit deeper into the term stress and how it influences decision-making.

Psychological stress is becoming a big global issue. We can think about several disciplines in which stress is a negative factor. It lowers the performance of employees, it lowers the performance of athletes, and together with this, it also raises the costs of healthcare.

But what is stress in general and how does it influence performance and decision making? Hans Selye who first described stress stated it is a “nonspecific response of the body to any demand”. Today we see stress as a response to change, threat, or pressure coming from outside or inside our bodies. Stress is needed to regain homeostasis of the body and is used in for example fight and flight reactions. However, chronic stress and stress during the wrong situations cause maladaptation which can result in depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment.

In life, many decisions are made in situations where stress is involved. Think about that striker again that is heading towards the box in the 91st minute of a world-cup game when the score is still 0-0. But also think about yourself, who was making tests in high school or the financial controller that has to make a decision which can cause a company to lose a lot of money. In a normal situation, individuals make decisions by calculating the risk and profit associated with each choice. These calculations are based upon executive functioning, including processes such as planning, categorization, and working memory. However, it is found that in some situations these decisions are made based on a non-rational matter rather than the strategic matter. Specifically when the consequences of a decision are implicit or when the information cannot be processed by an individual, a decision is not based on a strategic manner. In these situations, the intuitive system plays a more prominent role in decision-making. Stress influences the areas in the brain that are used for decision-making and thereby alters decision-making. High stress can cause individuals to make decisions even before they evaluated all potential outcomes. This can result in making risky decisions.

Therefore stress has to be tackled and the best way to do that is in a task-specific manner. This means we have to make individuals and groups emotionally resilient to the specific situations in which they experience impaired decision-making. Aristotle Cognitive Training makes a tool by which task-specific cognitive training can be given to improve the emotional resilience of among other things athletes, employees, or patients.


  • Barach, A. (2017). Stress and resiliency – Part 1: A Physiological Point of View. Mental Health Resources, O’Connor Professional Group.
  • Chu, B., Marwaha, K., Sanvictores, T., Ayers, D. (last updated: October, 2020). Physiology, Stress reaction. StatPearls.
  • Starcke, K., Brand, M. (2012). Decision making under stress: A selective review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 26: 1228-1248.
  • Tan, S.Y., Yip, A. (2018). Hans Selye (1907-1982): Founder of the stress theory. Singapore Medicine Journal. 59(4): 170-171.
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Marcello Sala

  • Business Innovation Manager & Content Manager
  • Current Study: MSc Innovation Management – TU/e

During recent years, I became more aware that a vast majority of technological advancements are not put to their full use in the current society. Some reasons for this are the fear of change that a lot of people experience, the lack of knowledge and awareness of the newest applications and because the existing infrastructure cannot keep up with the speed of technological innovation. Therefore, my goal is to inform people about the newest possibilities of the technology of this time and the added value these advancements can have to their daily life by making seemingly complicated technologies easy to use and understand for everyone. This is also why I decided to join Aristotle. I believe that there is still a lot of ground to cover in cognitive training and that we as Aristotle can make a difference.

Dirk Aarts

  • UX/UI Manager & Assistant Software Developer
  • Current Study: MSc Human-Technology Interaction – TU/e

I have a background in Automotive Engineering at Fontys and after completing the pre-master at the start of last year, I started the master. Due to the current global pandemic, the international semester had been cancelled. As an alternative, I knew I wanted to do something pro-active and work on a practical project instead of following more theoretical courses, and the TU/e Innovation Space project could offer just that. At Aristotle I can apply and broaden my knowledge of cognition, combined with a diverse multidisciplinary team there is a lot for me to learn! Together with Aristotle, I believe we can explore and create effective cognitive training tools and lift athletes to the next level both personally and professionally.

Antonios Mantzaris

  • Data Scientist & Software Developer
  • Current Study: MSc Data Science – EIT Digital Master School

I have the luck to study in two of the top universities in Europe, TU/e in Eindhoven and KTH in Stockholm and also get a minor in Entrepreneurship besides the Data Science track. I would describe myself as analytical, organizing and pragmatic. I joined Aristotle to get out of my comfort zone, develop my personal skills in social and technical aspects but also implement my knowledge attained from my studies so far in a real-life problem, in realistic conditions. I believe we can really make an impact with innovative ideas and tools but also highlight the advantages of cognitive training in football or in general.