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Hengqing Chu, Jay Todd, Sian Beilock, Alejandro Lleras; Endogenous Attention Control “Chokes under Pressure”. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):251. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/10.7.251.
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Choking under pressure is a well-documented phenomenon. Previous studies have suggested that pressure compromises performance by creating mental distractions that compete for and reduce working memory capacity required for skill execution (Beilock, 2008). We hypothesized that pressure may also compromise the central executive control system, typically in charge of goal maintenance and endogenous control of action. Here, we tested this latter prediction and examined whether pressure would impact observers' ability to endogenously control attention. Participants were asked to complete a series of alternating math and attention tasks. The attention task was an endogenous cueing task: a colored dot was presented briefly at fixation and the color of the dot was 80% predictive of the location of an upcoming target. Three different SOAs between cue and target were used (200, 600 and 1000ms). The math task was included to make sure participants were sensitive to the pressure manipulation. Halfway through the experiment, we introduced the pressure manipulation, so that performance on the first half could be taken as a benchmark of normal performance and compared to performance under pressure (within subjects). We manipulated pressure by telling our participants: that they would be videotaped; that they had an opportunity to double their money if they and a randomly-paired partner could both improve their performance by 20%; and that their partner had already successfully improved their own performance (so all responsibility laid with the participant). However, none of this was true and participants always earned twice the advertised money. Consistent with our hypothesis, preliminary analysis showed that pressure did impact endogenous attention control: while cueing effects were still observed at the shorter SOAs, participants seemed unable to maintain attention at the cued location at the long SOA condition, even though in the first half of the experiment they had no problem doing so.
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