Reappraising Threat: How to Optimize Performance Under Pressure

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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Competitive situations often hinge on one pressurized moment. In these situations, individuals’ psychophysiological states determine performance, with a challenge state associated with better performance than a threat state. But what can be done if an individual experiences a threat state? This study examined one potential solution: arousal reappraisal. Fifty participants received either arousal reappraisal or control instructions before performing a pressurized, single-trial, motor task. Although both groups initially displayed cardiovascular responses consistent with a threat state, the reappraisal group displayed a cardiovascular response more reflective of a challenge state (relatively higher cardiac output and/or lower total peripheral resistance) after the reappraisal manipulation. Furthermore, despite performing similarly at baseline, the reappraisal group outperformed the control group during the pressurized task. The results demonstrate that encouraging individuals to interpret heightened physiological arousal as a tool that can help maximize performance can result in more adaptive cardiovascular responses and motor performance under pressure.

Lee J. Moore is with the School of Sport and Exercise, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK. Samuel J. Vine and Mark R. Wilson are with the Department of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK. Paul Freeman is with the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, UK.

Address author correspondence to Lee J. Moore at lmoore1@glos.ac.uk.