Saturday, May 18, 2013

Choking and Brain-Body Performance

In July of 2012 I blogged about “choking” and performance failure under pressure. In his book “The Art of Failure” Malcom Gladwell described choking as thinking too much with a resulting loss of instinct. Using fMRI technology, a team of neuroscientists in London studied choking and found that activity in the ventral striatum (a subcortical brain region dense with dopamine neurons) tended to increase as people got more excited about potential rewards. In some brains, however, striatum activity was inversely related to the magnitude of the reward. Translated, this may mean that some individuals fall apart (choke) under the pressure of the moment because they care too much. The pleasure of the activity has vanished. What remains is the fear of losing, a fear of failure, which can trigger choking. There’s more. According to researcher Juergen Beckmann PhD, chair of sport psychology at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, for skilled athletes, many movements (e.g., kicking a soccer ball, completing a judo kick) become automatic with little conscious thought. When athletes under pressure fail to perform well, they may be focusing too much on their own movements rather than relying on their motor skills that have been developed through years of practice.

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