ZYTARUK: Put smart brain headline here

A new study reveals that journalists — and you're not going to believe this — might actually have room for improvement in the smarts department.

So let it be written…

Oh oh — the cat is out of the bag.

A new study reveals that journalists — and you’re not going to believe this — might actually have room for improvement in the smarts department.

In truth, I’m well sure that many, many of you brainiacs reading this column figured that out some long time ago. But to us, it comes as a short, sharp shock.

Neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart’s recent Study into the Mental Resilience of Journalists saw 90 reporters and editors apply to participate in her study and 40 were selected on a “first come, first served” basis from newspapers, magazines, broadcast and online.

I picture a roomful of journalists, tongues poking out of the sides of their faces, trying to pound square pegs into round holes with plastic hammers. Tap tap tap.

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Of the 40 chosen, 21 completed their tasks, 10 completed some of them, and the rest did not. The study ran for seven months, with the journalists undertaking a series of “simple” tests relating to their lifestyle, health and behaviour. They did a blood test (that’s red ink, I guess), wore a heart monitor for a few days, kept a food and drink journal and then did a brain profile questionnaire.

The study looked into stressors endemic to journalists, such as deadlines, accountability to the public, heavy and unpredictable workloads, public scrutiny compounded by social media, and poor pay.

The study expected to find high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood, an appetite for risk, increased signs of stress based on heart rate, fewer hours of sleep or lack of good-quality sleep, and “poor recovery levels during the working day.”

It found the participating journalists were no more stressed out than other people, as apparently over time we learn how to “endure stress and bounce back from pressure, indicating that this can be developed over time.” The demands of digital media were “often cited as contributing to feelings of stress at work.”

So what, you say. Right? Well, here’s the schadenfreude stuff. Journalists, as it were, don’t drink nearly enough water, drink too much booze and consume high quantities of caffeine, with the result being that as a group we share “a lower than average ability to regulate emotions, suppress biases, solve complex problems, switch between tasks, and think flexibly and creatively.”

We’re apparently a dehydrated lot, with our low scores attributable, according to Swart’s study, to the “severe impact of dehydration on cognitive ability.”

That study was all of 12 pages. Took me a while to sort it out, but at least now I have an excuse for not being so bright: It’s all in the water I don’t drink enough of.

Interesting stuff, anyway.

If you haven’t had enough of my navel-gazing, here’s some parting thoughts on journalists that you can find in Stephen Bates’ book, If No News, Send Rumours.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) had this to say about my kind: “If I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced, I would not despair over her. But if I had a son who became a journalist and continued to remain one for five years, I would give him up.”

Literary critic Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) said a news-writer requires “neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness; but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary.”

Meh, what did they know.

I wonder how many glasses of water those two drank every day?

So let it be done.


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