Smart People Choke Under Pressure

“People perceived as the most likely to succeed might also be the most likely to crumble under pressure.

A new study finds that individuals with high working-memory capacity, which normally allows them to excel, crack under pressure and do worse on simple exams than when allowed to work with no constraints. Those with less capacity score low, too, but they tend not to be affected by pressure.

“The pressure causes verbal worries, like ‘Oh no, I can’t screw up,’” said Sian Beilock, assistant professor of psychology at Miami University of Ohio. “These thoughts reside in the working memory.” And that takes up space that would otherwise be pondering the task at hand.

“When they begin to worry, then they’re in trouble,” Beilock told LiveScience. “People with lower working-memory capacities are not using that capacity to begin with, so they’re not affected by pressure.”

The findings are detailed this week’s issue of Psychological Science.

Working memory, also known as short-term memory, holds information that is relevant to performance and ensures task focus. It’s what allows us to remember and retrieve information from an early step of a long task, such as long-division math.

“In these math problems students have to perform subtraction and division, and if you’re trying to hold information in your memory and you start worrying about performance, then you can’t use your entire mental capacity to do the math,” Beilock explained.”

This story came out a while ago but I still found it to be of interest. The point here is simple, stop worrying or it might affect your performance. Read the whole thing here.

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