Work stress can turn you into a toddler, research suggests.

A study has found that having to cope with stressful tasks can reduce a person’s mental faculties to those of a small child.

People who think they perform better under pressure are deluded, according to the scientists. In reality, acute stress lowered the brain’s ability to think critically, reason, and make practical decisions.

Two groups of 100 volunteers took part in simple tests with one completing a series of stress-inducing tasks before and in-between trials.

The results “overwhelmingly” showed that the stressed participants were more likely to make a wrong decision, choose a wrong answer, or react emotionally by making snap judgements based on a gut feeling.

Such traits were similar to those seen in small children, who tend to respond emotionally to problems they find difficult to understand, instead of arriving at a considered logical solution, said the researchers.

Neuroscientist David Lewis, director of the independent research company Mindlab, which carried out the study for healthcare providers Brenenden Health, said: “When stressed, the focus of our attention tends to narrow and, if associated with strong emotions, we tend to act less rationally on occasions.

“Of course, this depends both on the stressor and other factors such as personality and the coping strategies available to the individual. When stress arises unexpectedly and is especially overwhelming, rational thinking tends to be replaced by impulsive and often faulty decision-making.

“This can be compared to a small child who responds emotionally to situations he or she finds stressful and frustrating.”

Richard Carlton-Crabtree, from Benenden Health’s counselling service provider, Insight Healthcare, said: “Many people harbour the view that a little bit of stress may be healthy as the added pressure that stress causes can positively affect their performance, but this research shows that even small amounts of stress can have negative effects.

“This should reassure people that they should seek help and support when the onset of stress begins, because it can have a detrimental effect from day one acted correctly.”

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