Interactions Between Performance Pressure, Performance Streaks, and Attentional Focus

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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How is performance under pressure influenced by the history of events that precede it, and how does the pressure outcome influence the series of events that follow? A baseball batting simulation was used with college players to investigate these questions. In Experiment 1, the difficulty of the simulation was first adaptively adjusted to equate performance level. Batters next completed 20 at-bats used to classify them into one of three performance groups (normal, cold streak, or hot streak) followed by a one at-bat pressure condition. Finally, performance was evaluated over a period of 20 postpressure at-bats. In Experiment 2, a series of secondary tasks were added to assess attentional focus. In both experiments, whether batters succeeded or failed under pressure was significantly related to their performance history immediately before the pressure event, with the normal group having the poorest pressure performance. Performance postpressure was significantly related to both the pressure outcome and prepressure performance. These performance effects were related to changes in the batter’s attentional focus as shown by changes in secondary task accuracy.

Rob Gray and Jonathan Allsop are with the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK.

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