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. It is not yet peer reviewed, and the sample size is small, so the results should not be taken necessarily as fact.
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.
Compared with bankers, traders, or salespeople, journalists showed that they were more able to cope with pressure.
I found this curious, so I read the linked study for more detail. In fact, the study does not say this at all.
The results, however, showed that the journalists were on average no more physically stressed than the average person. The blood tests showed that their levels of cortisol — known as the stress hormone — were mostly normal.
“The headline conclusion reached is that journalists are undoubtedly subject to a range of pressures at work and home, but the meaning and purpose they attribute to their work contributes to helping them remain mentally resilient despite this,” the study says.
Every occupation has its pros and cons…
Also of interest from the study (emphasis mine):
Silencing the Mind.
This behaviour refers to purposeful sessions to enhance focus and/or to allow thoughts without reacting, thereby preventing worrying about the future or regretting the past (i.e. the practice of mindfulness). Mindfulness promotes a relaxed physiological state at the level of the hypothalamus and amygdala and enhances the ability to focus and sustain attention at the level of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. It promotes brain cell formation in the hippocampus and reduces the sensitivity of the amygdala, calming it down and promoting clarity of mind.
Low scores for silencing the mind indicates a lack of mindfulness practice amongst the surveyed population. This can manifest itself in reduced executive functioning, which corresponds to the result above. Studies have shown that just 12 minutes of mindfulness a day or 30 minutes of mindfulness 3 times a week thickens the folds of the pre-frontal cortex enhancing executive function.