Playing Games Badly: Why We Choke
Why is it that baseball players have fewer hits when they are under greater pressure? Why do the climbers move less fluidly the higher up a wall they go? Robert Gray, of the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Birmingham, studied the unfortunate phenomenon and concluded that “when you’re under pressure, that your attention goes inward naturally. And focusing on what you’re doing makes you mess up.” Didn’t we know that? ABC News reports on research conducted at Yale that suggests that players on a winning streak are likely to continue seeing positive outcomes — at least when it comes to hitting free throws in pro-basketball games. The most comprehensive answer to the choking dilemma may be found in the New Yorker, where Jonah Lehrer reports on the work of Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, whose research revealed that when experienced golfers are forced to think about their swing mechanics, they shank the ball. Could there be such a thing as too much thought about a particular action? Beilock thinks so. The New Yorker reports on research by a team of neuroscientists at Caltech and University College of London, that suggests that our performance goes south when we start to focus on the pain of losing rather than the glory of winning. Athletes who choke, the piece asserts,” are victims of loss aversion, the well-documented psychological phenomenon that losses make us feel bad more than gains make us feel good.” Want to avoid choking? Think about winning, and only about winning.