Evidence of how stress disrupts rational decision-making and short-term memory is reported today in research that could lead to drugs to treat mental illness. The work sheds light on why it is harder to remember where you left your keys when in a hurry, and why you are more likely to tell the boss to get lost when under pressure. The culprit, according to a study published today in Science by Dr Shari Birnbaum and colleagues at Yale University, is an enzyme activated in stress called protein kinase C, or PKC. Stress can increase PKC activity in the prefrontal cortex, a higher brain area located just above the eyes which is necessary for the executive functions of the brain, including planning, judgement and short-term memory. Exposure to even mild uncontrollable stress is known to impair these functions.
Normally I keep my keys in a yew wood bowl by the back door. When I'm late for work, they turn up on the coffee table, in the bathroom, on the kitchen counter, anywhere but where I left them.