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Are pressure-induced performance errors in experts associated with novice-like skill execution (as predicted by reinvestment/conscious processing theories) or expert execution toward a result that the performer typically intends to avoid (as predicted by ironic processes theory)? The present study directly compared these predictions using a baseball pitching task with two groups of experienced pitchers. One group was shown only their target, while the other group was shown the target and an ironic (avoid) zone. Both groups demonstrated significantly fewer target hits under pressure. For the target-only group, this was accompanied by significant changes in expertise-related kinematic variables. In the ironic group, the number of pitches thrown in the ironic zone was significantly higher under pressure, and there were no significant changes in kinematics. These results suggest that information about an opponent can influence the mechanisms underlying pressure-induced performance errors.
Rob Gray and Anders Orn are with Human Systems Engineering, Arizona State University, Mesa, AZ. Tim Woodman is with the School of Sport, Health & Exercise Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor, U.K.