It’s not just humans who perform better in tests or athletic events when slightly nervous, but even dogs perform equally well under stress, says a new study.
The relationship between stress and performance follows a Goldilocks model: Both function best when the level of stress is not too much, nor too little. “When you’re taking a test, for example, it helps to be a little bit anxious so you don’t just blow it off,” said co-author Emily Bray, professor, University of Pennsylvania.
“But if you’re too nervous, even if you study and know the material really well, you aren’t going to perform at your best,” Bray said in Animal Cognition. The team challenged dogs to retrieve a meat jerky treat from a person standing behind a clear plastic barrier.
To get it right, the dogs had to resist the impulse to try to take the shortest path to reach the treat and instead walk around the barrier to one of the open sides.
“The service dogs were cool in the face of stress or distraction, whereas the pet dogs tended to be more excitable and high-strung,” Bray said.