Here’s the scientific reason you never stop worrying about stuff

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Do you find it difficult to stop worrying? Rex

Do you ever feel that you can’t stop worrying, and that even if you’ve dealt with problems, you’ll suddenly find new ones to worry about?

You’re not alone.

Harvard researcher David Levari conducted experiments and found that human brains are ‘wired’ to detect problems – even once pressing ones have been solved.

Levari and his team showed volunteers faces which had been computer-generated to look more or less intimidating – asking them to pick out the threatening ones.

As Levari reduced the number of genuinely intimidating faces in the group, volunteers just shifted their definition of what ‘threatening’ was, he says.

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In an essay for The Conversation, he said, ‘You can probably think of many similar situations in which problems never seem to go away, because people keep changing how they define them. This is sometimes called “concept creep,” or “moving the goalposts”.

Levari believes that this is a consequence of how human brains evolved – so that we judge everything relative to things we have recently seen.

He says, ‘This kind of behavior is a consequence of the basic way that our brains process information – we are constantly comparing what is front of us to its recent context.

‘Instead of carefully deciding how threatening a face is compared to all other faces, the brain can just store how threatening it is compared to other faces it has seen recently, or compare it to some average of recently seen faces, or the most and least threatening faces it has seen.’