Monday, December 13, 2010

Can Education About Fears Lead to Higher SAT Scores?

I have no idea. But this site offers its subscribers excerpts from books (usually nonfiction)that it thinks look interesting. A book it just featured, called Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, by Taylor Clark, is due out in March 2011. As the publisher's marketing materials state, "Nerves make us bomb job interviews, first dates, and SATs. With a presentation looming at work, fear robs us of sleep for days. It paralyzes seasoned concert musicians and freezes rookie cops in tight situations. And yet not everyone cracks. Soldiers keep their heads in combat; firemen rush into burning buildings; unflappable trauma doctors juggle patient after patient. It's not that these people feel no fear; often, in fact, they're riddled with it."

The author says, "When you think about it, it's one of the great ironies of our time: we now inhabit a modernized, industrialized, high-tech world that presents us with fewer and fewer legitimate threats to our survival, yet we appear to find more and more things to be anxious about with each passing year. Unlike our pelt-wearing prehistoric ancestors, our survival is almost never jeopardized in daily life. When was the last time you felt in danger of being attacked by a lion, for example, or of starving to death? Between our sustenance-packed superstores, our state-of-the-art hospitals, our quadruplecrash-tested cars, our historically low crime rates, and our squadrons of consumer-protection watchdogs, Americans are safer and more secure today than at any other point in human history.

"But just try telling that to our brains, because they seem to believe that precisely the opposite is true. At the turn of the millennium, as the nation stood atop an unprecedented summit of peace and prosperity, anxiety surged past depression as the most prominent mental health issue in the United States. America now ranks as the most anxious nation on the planet, with more than 18 percent of adults suffering from a full-blown anxiety disorder in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. (On the other hand, in Mexico - a place where one assumes there's plenty to fret about - only 6.6 percent of adults have ever met the criteria for significant anxiety issues.) ...And as the psychologist and anxiety specialist Robert Leahy has pointed out, the seeds of modern worry get planted early. 'The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s,' he writes. Security and modernity haven't brought us calm; they've somehow put us out of touch with how to handle our fears.

"Fortunately - and not a moment too soon - a flood of cutting edge research from psychologists, neuroscientists, and scholars from all disciplines is now coming together to show us what fear and stress really are, how they work in our brains, and why so much of what we thought we knew about dealing with them was dead wrong."

Now, I am not recommending the book; I don't know how much science vs. conjecture is used in the arguments. But as we go through auditions, standardized tests and hard physics exams, I must say I am curious about the content.

Thanks to friend and colleague Andrea Axelrod for passing this along to me.

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