An easy way to improve exam performance

As we enter the last few weeks of the semester, with finals looming, I thought I’d remind you of a small action that might help you perform better on exams.

We’ve talked about how oxytocin promotes trust, connection, and monogamy – all the good relationship stuff. But as we talked about in class this week, it may also have another, unexpected effect: improved problem-solving ability.

A New York Times article entitled “Evidence That Little Touches Do Mean So Much” talks about the positive effects of small, physical interactions (a touch on the arm, a high-five, etc.). Some of the positive effects are what you’d expect: small touches have been shown to ease pain, soothe depression, deepen a relationship. But here’s something interesting: small touches can also improve mental performance!

How could oxytocin (a “relationship” hormone) have anything to do with personal performance? The article offers an interesting suggestion:

A warm touch seems to set off the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps create a sensation of trust, and to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In the brain, prefrontal areas, which help regulate emotion, can relax, freeing them for another of their primary purposes: problem solving. In effect, the body interprets a supportive touch as “I’ll share the load.”

So: let’s see more high-fives, more touches on the arm, more secret handshakes. It can’t hurt – especially around exam time!

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