How does stress affect performance, learning and driving behaviour?

Over the last two weeks blogs, we have covered the three emotional systems and learning zones.  So how does all this theory about stress, emotions and learning apply to our learner drivers in real life?  We can take a learner driver at a roundabout as an example.    

If our learner driver perceives that the gap between safely negotiating the roundabout and their own abilities is manageable, then their Drive system will be activated and they will be in the Stretch zone of learning.  They understand what they need to do, it feels challenging but manageable.  They may experience some low level physical and cognitive stress symptoms which may have the effect of increasing their attention and effort and improving performance.  

The idea of the Stretch zone is used a lot in sports psychology with the theory known as the inverted U hypothesis, that an optimum amount of stress or pressure can lead to optimum performance.  

However, if our learner driver perceives an over threatening gap between their driving ability and being able to safely negotiate the roundabout their Defence system will be activated.  They may experience a higher level of physical and cognitive stress symptoms, which are likely to have a detrimental effect on their driving performance.  They may move from the Stretch learning zone into the Panic zone or even worse into the Failure zone, resulting in a learner who now fears roundabouts.  

The learner drivers experience and resulting behaviour and performance will then influence their self-confidence and future perceptions the next time they experience the same situation.  If they had a positive experience, they are happy to repeat and practice until roundabouts slip into their learning Comfort zone.   However, if they had a negative experience and slipped into the Panic or Failure zone of learning they may continue to perceive approaching roundabouts as stressful. 

Past performance accomplishments are one of the researched factors which can affect self-confidence according to Bandura's theory of self-efficacy which the Confident Drivers website is based around.   The techniques on the website aim to manage physical and cognitive symptoms of stress, keeping the learner in their Drive system emotionally and in the Stretch zone for maximum learning ability.

Roundabouts