By Lindsay Dodgson; Business Insider:
Journalists’ brains show a lower-than-average level of executive functioning, according to a new study, which means they have a below-average ability to regulate their emotions, suppress biases, solve complex problems, switch between tasks, and show creative and flexible thinking.
The study, led by Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and leadership coach, analysed 40 journalists from newspapers, magazines, broadcast, and online platforms over seven months. The participants took part in tests related to their lifestyle, health, and behaviour.
It was launched in association with the London Press Club, and the objective was to determine how journalists can thrive under stress.
Each subject completed a blood test, wore a heart-rate monitor for three days, kept a food and drink diary for a week, and completed a brain profile questionnaire.
The results showed that journalists’ brains were operating at a lower level than the average population, particularly because of dehydration and the tendency of journalists to self-medicate with alcohol, caffeine, and high-sugar foods.
Forty-one percent of the subjects said they drank 18 or more units of alcohol a week, which is four units above the recommended weekly allowance. Less than 5% drank the recommended amount of water.
However, in interviews conducted in conjunction with the brain profile results, the participants indicated they felt their jobs had a lot of meaning and purpose, and they showed high mental resilience. Swart suggested this gave them an advantage over people in other professions in dealing with the work pressure of tight deadlines.
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STUDY INTO THE MENTAL RESILIENCE OF JOURNALISTS
By Dr. Tara Swart
90 journalists applied to take part in the study (although a number of others self-excluded due to anti-depressant use). 40 journalists were selected on a first come first served basis, from across newspaper & magazine, broadcast and online. Ultimately, failure to complete all the elements in the required time limit meant that a total of 21 participants completed every element, and a further 10 completed some elements of the study.
The study was based on a programme called Leading Sustainable Performance designed by Dr Tara Swart which she ordinarily runs with leadership teams in banks and large corporates.
It was performed over a period of 7 months, during which time a group of journalists undertook a series of simple tests to record various data relating to their lifestyle, health and behaviour. Journalists then met with Dr Swart for an individual session during which their results and specific experiences were discussed in depth.
Tests that journalists undertook were:
- Completing a blood test;
- Wearing a heart-rate variability monitor for three days;
- Keeping a food and drink diary for seven days; and
- Completing a brain profile questionnaire.
Provision of blood test kits and heart rate variability devices was arranged by LiveSmart and FirstBeat respectively, and brain profiles were supplied by Neurozone.
The study was borne out of a desire to look at professions which appear to be subject to a particularly high number of stressors. Journalism has a reputation for being a high-pressured line of work, yet this aspect of the job doesn’t receive much attention in the same way that stress experienced by bankers and lawyers does. Elements that contribute to journalism being a stressful profession include:
- Accountability to the public
- Heavy and unpredictable workloads
- Public scrutiny, compounded by social media
- Poor pay
It was therefore expected that the study results would display a number of factors to indicate high stress levels amongst the group, for example:
- High levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood
- A distinct risk appetite profile, as indicated by testosterone levels
- Increased signs of stress based on heart rate variability data around deadlines
- Fewer hours of sleep or lack of good quality sleep
- Poor recovery levels during the working day
To read results of the above visit TaraStewart.