You might assume that anxious people would crumble in a chaotic, nerve-racking situation. However, plenty of research has suggested that anxiety can actually help people cope with stressful high-octane scenarios.
Research by a group of Israeli psychologists has shown that people with high levels of attachment anxiety – people who seek intimacy and proximity to significant others – are better at making distinctions between good guys and bad guys in an armed shoot-out.
The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, consisted of 38 men and 52 women from Israel playing the iPad game, Real Strike, an augmented-reality application that adds a rifle-like sight on the iPad’s camera and allows the user to aim and shoot at objects. As part of the game, they had to instantaneously distinguish between villains holding a gun and innocents people holding a harmless item with the same color and shape as a gun like a black mobile phone.
Their results found that people who showed high levels of attachment anxiety displayed a far greater level of accuracy at hitting people armed with guns and avoiding people who were holding non-gun objects.
The study authors note that these findings are particularly useful when studying how civilians cope with 21st-century warfare and terrorist attacks, where the assailants might not necessarily look like a combatant and the attack could take place around numerous others civilians.
“People high in attachment anxiety are usually stressed and over-reacting, however. What I wanted to examine is their performance in shooting decisions – would they, and not calm and secure people, be better at making accurate shooting decisions?" study author Tsachi Ein-Dor from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya told PsyPost.
“Being anxious is often appraised as maladaptive. We have shown that contrary to the common thought, calmness is maladaptive in the context of shooting decisions, whereas anxiety is adaptive.”
“People should not appraise their personality as good or bad,” Ein-Dor added. “Each personality disposition has its advantages (and disadvantages). Hence, people need to search for the context in which their personality would succeed, and this context might be elusive and counter-intuitive at times (who thought that anxious people and not secure people would be better at shooting decisions?).”
This is a single study, so obviously more work needs to be done, the authors admit, but as a jumping off point for helping us deal with the world we now live in, this is certainly an interesting place to start.