Butler and Baumeister (1998) suggested that performance decrement of a difficult skill-based task occurring only in the presence of a supportive audience could be explained by “a cautious performance style” (p. 1226). A potential alternative explanation stems from Masters’ (1992) contention that skill failure under pressure occurs when performers attempt to control motor performance using explicit knowledge. It was proposed that a skill acquired with minimal metaknowledge (i.e., a limited explicit knowledge base) would remain robust regardless of audience type. To test this hypothesis, a table tennis shot was learned with either a greater or a lesser bank of explicit task knowledge. Performance was subsequently assessed in the presence of observation-only audiences, supportive audiences, and adversarial audiences. Consistent with hypotheses, supportive audiences induced performance decrement in the explicit-learning group only. It was argued that supportive audiences engender higher levels of internally focused attention than do adversarial or observation-only audiences, increasing the chance of disruption to skill execution when performance characteristics involve a large amount of explicit processing.
School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Univ. of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, U.K.
Institute of Human Performance, Univ. of Hong Kong, Lindsay Ride Sport Center, Pokfulam Rd., Hong Kong
Dept. of Kinesiology & Physical Education, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, Canada T1K 3M4.