Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?



              This lead takes the form of a narrative.  The author Po Bronson takes the focus of the article (the causes and effects of pressure on adolescents) and provides a “case-in-point” – Noah and his brother Jacob Muthler.  He presents Noah as a typical “worrier” by describing (in narrative form) his extreme test anxiety, a problem so devastating that it keeps him from sleeping for weeks before a big test.  His brother Jacob, on the other hand, is what the author calls a typical “warrior”, meaning that he doesn’t get stressed out by tests or really anything much at all.  I thought this was an effective lead in that it distinguished between the two ways of handling stress.  I thought it was ineffective overall though, because the article goes on to explain why it actually doesn’t matter which type of person you are, because both types can be trained to use stress as an advantage.


            The article is about the causes and effects of stress upon school-aged children.  It gets most of its research from a study done in Taiwan upon students leading up to the Basic Competency Test for Junior High.  The scientists measured the students’ stress-levels directly preceding the start of the test (which can make-or-break a students chances of entering a 1st tier school).  What they found was that students with a slow-acting enzyme called COMT were better able to harness stress as a positive force, and therein received considerably better exam scores.  This can be compared to other students with a version of COMT that, rather than being slow-acting, is instantaneous, who were equally as stressed, but could not harness it, and crumpled under the pressure.  Research also found that professional athletes almost always possess the slow-acting version of COMT, meaning that professionals actually do feel the same amount of stress as everyone else in society.  The difference is in their slow-acting COMT, which allows them to embrace the stress as a wholly positive force.  Overall, the article first sets up “worriers” (people with the instantaneous COMT variation) as the blessed group, because the stress makes them study harder.  It then throws them under the bus when it says that they are actually at a disadvantage, because, despite all the studying, they cannot handle stress, and perform poorly on the test.  Comparatively, “warriors” (students with the slow-acting COMT), though they may not study as hard, are better at harnessing the test-time stress, and end up performing noticeably better.

 Number of people the writer interviewed: 15

 Important Sources:

  •  David Goldman- Geneticist at the National Institutes of Health
  • Chun-Yen Chang- director of the Science Education Center at National Taiwan Normal University
  • Silvia Bunge- Associate Professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley
  • Adele Diamond- Professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the University of British Columbia
  • Quinn Kennedy- research psychologist at the Naval Postgraduate School
  • Douglas C. Johnson- Professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego
  • Jeremy Jamieson- Assistant Professor of social psychology at the University of Rochester
  • Berry Mendes- Associate Professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco
  • David and Christi Bergin- Professors of educational and developmental psychology at the University of Missouri
  • Rena Subotnik- Psychologist at the American Psychological Association

 Research Used:

  • The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment
  • Critical Arguments of the Standardized exam
  • The COMT studies in Taiwan
  • Results of the Basic Competency Test for Junior High Students in Taiwan
  • Function of the Prefrontal Cortex
  • Taiwan’s Education System
  • Importance of Warriors and Worriers in Human evolution
  • Studies that compare professionals with amateur sports competitors
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