Stress, War, and Fear: How it Impacts Human Intelligence in Psychology

Human psychology is a complex and multifaceted field that delves into the intricate workings of the mind, emotions, and behaviors. Stress, war, and fear are significant factors that influence human cognition and intelligence. Here we will explore the psychological mechanisms behind the impact of stress, war, and fear on cognitive capacity, examining the physiological and psychological processes that lead to diminished intelligence. By understanding these effects, we can gain insight into the profound challenges faced by individuals and societies during times of stress, conflict, and fear.

Human psychology

Understanding Human Cognitive Capacity

Before delving into the negative impacts, it’s essential to understand the basics of human cognitive capacity. Human intelligence encompasses various mental abilities, including reasoning, problem-solving, memory, and learning. These cognitive functions are essential for adaptive behavior, decision-making, and overall mental well-being. Albert Bandura, a pioneer in social learning theory, highlighted the impact of the environment on learning and behavior. An environment that is conducive to learning, free from distractions and conducive to concentration, can significantly enhance cognitive performance. Comfortable, well-lit spaces with minimal noise and minimal influence of stress allow individuals to focus their attention and engage in deep learning.

Psychologist Ellen Langer introduced the concept of mindfulness, emphasizing the importance of being fully present and engaged in the current moment. Underway circumstances that encourage mindfulness, such as meditation or relaxation techniques, can reduce stress and anxiety, promoting optimal cognitive functioning. Being mentally prepared, calm, and focused enhances learning and problem-solving abilities.

Human psychology

When individuals experience stress, the body releases cortisol, a hormone associated with the body’s fight-or-flight response. While this response is adaptive in acute situations, chronic stress leads to sustained elevated cortisol levels, which impair memory, attention, and decision-making abilities. Neuroscientist Robert M. Sapolsky, in his research on stress, underscores how persistent stress negatively affects the brain’s hippocampus, a region vital for memory and learning.

Educational psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on mindset highlights the importance of creating a growth-oriented, stress-free environment. In such an atmosphere, students are more likely to embrace challenges, learn from failures, and maintain a positive attitude toward learning. When students feel safe, supported, and unburdened by stress, their cognitive abilities flourish, allowing for improved focus, information retention, and problem-solving skills.

READ MORE: World Mental Health Day: Nourishing the Mind for a Healthier World

Stress and Cognitive Impairment

Physiological Responses to Stress: Stress triggers the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which prepare the body for the “fight or flight” response. While this response is vital in acute situations, chronic stress leads to a prolonged exposure to stress hormones, affecting the brain’s structure and function.

Impact on Memory and Learning: Chronic stress impairs the hippocampus, a brain region crucial for memory and learning. High cortisol levels can disrupt the formation of new memories and impair the ability to retrieve existing ones, leading to cognitive decline.

Impaired Decision-Making and Problem-Solving: Stress narrows cognitive focus, leading to a tendency to focus on immediate concerns rather than considering long-term consequences. This narrowing of attention impairs decision-making and problem-solving abilities.

Stress management

War and Its Psychological Toll

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): War often leads to the development of PTSD, a mental health condition resulting from exposure to trauma. PTSD affects cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and emotional regulation. Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts further disrupt cognitive processes.

Impact on Social Cognition: War-related trauma can impair social cognition, affecting the ability to understand and interpret social cues accurately. This can lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, which are essential for cognitive and emotional well-being.

Fear and Its Cognitive Consequences

Fear and the Amygdala: Fearful stimuli activate the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotional processing. Chronic fear leads to an overactive amygdala, disrupting the balance between emotional responses and rational thinking.

Impaired Cognitive Flexibility: Fear and anxiety reduce cognitive flexibility, the ability to adapt cognitive strategies when faced with new information or changing circumstances. This rigidity hampers problem-solving skills and creative thinking.

We all live already in a post traumatic world as we experienced fear of COVID and uncertainty of the disease and therefore fear for our well being, our brain has released way to much cortisol and our amygdala has certainly grown because of consistent fear and stress. Our brain can heal, our amygdala can go back to the original size, it can shrink and we can teach our brain to release less cortisol even without drugs and other chemicals. But the healing can only happen if our surrounding environment is peaceful, supportive and not frightening.

What we can see from recent news outlets is destruction, death, killings and war mongering. Sadly, these horrific images and cheering for sides involved in war and atrocities do not help us in healing and our ideal brain function. In contrary, war, fear of war and anxiety of conflict and extension of conflicts contribute to our mental health deterioration. Very rarely we can see in media, if any, news stories of love, compassion and finding solutions that will end killings of innocent people. Part of reasons why media is showing horrific stories is that those stories sell, there is money to be made and therefor why preaching peace? Right? We need to realize that the healing comes from within, from acquiring knowledge on our brain function:

what causes stress?

what does stress do to our brain function?

who is promoting war?

who is teaching peace and tolerance?


All those questions have an answer and we can help our brain to making better decisions by learning those basic psychology and sociology facts.

People often go for a fear mongering headlines instead for love preaching, we have thought our brain already that kick comes from negative news full of fear and anxiety. Many get the boost for attention and the feeling of ecstasy when subscribing to horrific war happenings, news headlines or goose bump stories, yet the effect is nothing more than contrary. War, fear and chronic stress shrinks our mental capability, it decimates our rational thinking and lovers our cognitive outcome to reptilian brain where only two things exist: fight or flight! Those are two things that are left when our existence is threatened. By cheering for either side of the conflict, we loose the sight of the bigger picture. We loose our brain function and therefor we slip into the vicious cycle of chronic stress and low mental capability.

People who fight for peace, tolerance, understanding and cooperation are the ones who should get bigger screen time, bigger “on air” time and should get more general media coverage. Remember, who ever is propagating war and sugar coats war and fear is not your friend. No matter how important or famous such person might be, promoting war and explaining why this or that war is just, that person does not mean well to you or me.

Some people who have inspired humanity

Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Nelson Mandela:

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Malala Yousafzai:
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

Mother Teresa:
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Dalai Lama:
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

Positive psychology and compassion

These quotes reflect the enduring wisdom and compassion of these influential figures, serving as a reminder of the importance of peace, equality, and tolerance in our shared global community.

READ MORE: Unlocking the Power of Brain Function: Understanding Damage and Enhancement

Coping Strategies and Resilience

Coping Mechanisms: Individuals employ various coping strategies, such as social support, relaxation techniques, and therapy, to manage stress, fear, and trauma. These coping mechanisms can mitigate the cognitive impact, providing a buffer against cognitive decline.

Building Resilience: Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, can be cultivated through therapy, mindfulness practices, and supportive social networks. Resilient individuals are better equipped to cope with stressors and maintain cognitive function under challenging circumstances.

Preaching compassion and not subscribing to fear and war

Stress, war, and fear exert a profound impact on human cognitive capacity and intelligence. Understanding the underlying psychological mechanisms is crucial for developing effective interventions and support systems for individuals and communities affected by these challenges. By promoting mental health awareness, providing access to therapy and support services, and fostering resilience, societies can mitigate the detrimental effects of stress, war, and fear on human cognition. Through collective efforts, we can empower individuals to navigate adversity, preserve their cognitive abilities, and promote overall well-being in the face of life’s most challenging circumstances.

By changing our selves, we change the world around us. We all have the responsibility and challenge to make our world a better place to live on. We should not live on the edge, instead we all deserve to live in peaceful environment full of basic human needs that support our prospering and healthy development.

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