Information anxiety

Feeling anxious today? The reason could be a surfeit of information and the long-term consequences could include critical errors. A study conducted by Angela Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University (US) has found that as information flow is increased, so too is activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the rain associated with decision making. Sounds good, but is it? As the flow of information is increased further, activity in this region suddenly falls off.

Why could this be so?

The reason is that part of the brain has essentially left the building. When incoming information reaches a certain point the brain protects itself by shutting down certain of its functions. The result is that decision-making is impaired. Other consequences include a tendency for anxiety and stress levels to soar and for people to abstain from making any kind of decision at all. Even worse is the impact on creative thinking, which research suggests requires periods of incubation and reflection to function well.

During the recent BP disaster, Coastguard Admiral Thad Allen, who was the incident commander at the time, received between 300 and 400 pages of emails, texts and reports every day during the oil rig blow out. Nobody is making a direct connection between this data deluge and subsequent actions but the possibility certainly exists.

The takeaway here is that Dimoka’s research suggests that being exposed to too much information is changing how we think and we should think carefully about restricting the flow of incoming (and outgoing) information and also pre-pan periods of quiet down time and reflection.

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