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We present two novel tests of Wegner’s (1994) theory of ironic processes of mental control using a hockey penalty-shooting task (Study 1) and a dart throwing task (Study 2). In Study 1 we aimed to address a significant limitation of ironic effects research in a performance setting by differentiating nonironic performance error from specifically ironic performance error. When instructed not to miss in a specific direction, anxious performers did so a significantly greater number of times; importantly, there was no difference in nonironic error, which provides the first specific support for Wegner’s theory in a performance setting. In Study 2, we present the first examination of the precision of ironic errors. When anxious, participants performed not only more ironically but also performed more precisely in the to-be-avoided zone than when they were not anxious. We discuss the results in the context of the importance of specific instructions in coaching environments.
The authors are with the Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance, Bangor University, Bangor, UK.