Why some people 'choke' under pressure revealed

A new study has tried to shed light on why some people choke under pressure and fail to achieve something.

Washington: A new study has tried to shed light on why some people choke under pressure and fail to achieve something.

Researchers from The Johns Hopkins University suggested that in situations like this, performance depends on two factors: the framing of the incentive in terms of a loss or a gain, and a person's aversion to loss.

The study found that those with high loss aversion choked when told they stood to gain a lot, while those with low loss aversion choked under the pressure of large prospective losses. By monitoring the participants' brain activity as they were presented with incentives and then performed a skilled movement task, the researchers found that performance is influenced by a brain area called the ventral striatum.

Vikram Chib, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that they can measure someone's loss aversion and then frame the task in a way that might help them avoid choking under pressure.

The researchers found that an incentive - as a potential gain or loss - had a profound effect on person's behavior while performing a skilled task and the effect of pressure was different for those with high versus low aversion to loss, as high loss aversion seemed to help players' performance when they were threatened with increasing losses.

Chib believes that these results confirm that the ventral striatum is the interface between incentive-driven motivation and execution of physical performance, and he hopes these insights could help coaches and others to work with - or overcome - people's loss aversion in order to maximize their performance. More importantly than playing sports, the insights could help people taking important tests, pilots flying under dangerous conditions or surgeons performing difficult procedures.

The study was published online in The Journal of Neuroscience. 


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