If you try to stop worrying and find that you suck at it, there’s a good chance you suck at remembering things too.
You know those really calm, centered people who manage to stay that way no matter the chaos going on around them? Yeah, I’m totally not one of those people. I’m part of that super-charming subsection of the population who have more neuroses than money for therapy: high strung, wound like a top, and constantly checking for anvils. Sound familiar?
And just when you thought laid-back people already have it made, a new study from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York has revealed they also have a better memory than we neurotic folk. You know, not to give you something new to freak out about or anything.
Lead study author Sophia Frangou and her team measured the brain activity of 40 participants while they took a working memory test. Participants were asked to view a sequence of letters on a computer screen and point out when a current letter matched one from earlier in the sequence. Meanwhile, participants had their personality traits evaluated by completing a NEO-PI-R, which is a well-known psychology test that measures the five major personality types: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Researchers found that participants who showed high levels of neuroticism had slower neural connections—and therefore a suckier memory—than participants who were more conscientious.
“We found that people who are more neurotic, perhaps because they have the tendency to worry, were less efficient,” Frangou told the Smithsonian. On the flipside, participants who weren’t as easily distressed completed the task more quickly and with a higher rate of accuracy. (Show offs.)
For example, say you’re a train wreck (you know, like me) and you forget your grocery list. Deep down, you know you should stop worrying and take a breath—but instead, you act as if Armageddon has befallen you. There’s no way you’ll remember everything you had written down, which means your meal plan for the entire week is going to be in shambles, which means your half-assed meals are going to leave you tired and unable to focus, which means you’ll get fired, which means you’ll be so upset about getting fired you’ll get into a terrible car wreck on the way home and end up incinerated.
A chill person, on the other hand, would take all of this energy you’ve just wasted and use it toward practical things—like remembering what’s on their shopping list, cooking delicious gourmet meals on the regs, scoring a promotion, and saving a kitten from a tree on their way home to spend time with their equally-chill family. Of course, they’re so together they probably wouldn’t forget their shopping list in the first place… excuse me while I bathe with a toaster.
Even though the study was small, the links between neuroticism, conscientiousness and working memory were uber-strong. It will be interesting to see how the methodology applies on a larger scale, and how it might help the highly neurotic stop worrying so much. I only have one question: Where do I sign up?
Related on EcoSalon
How to Stop Worrying in 6 Easy Steps
Refuse to Worry (and How to Be More Useful for Your Friends)
The Real Reason You See Faces in Things
Worried woman image via Shutterstock