Psychologist: Why we screw up when the heat is on
Psychologist Sian Beilock has investigated what happens in the brain when our performance crumbles under pressure. She talked to Tiffany O’Callaghan about what it takes to stay on form under stress, and why being smarter can be more hindrance than help
What made you want to research what you’ve called “the science of why people screw up”?
Everyone asks me if I’m doing “me-search” instead of research, trying to figure out how I perform. Some of that is probably true. I have always been interested in how people perform at exceptional levels, in the classroom or on the playing field, and why I could excel in some situations but at other times fail to put my best foot forward. A lot of scientists were asking questions about how people get good at what they do, but there was less work looking at why people fail when the pressure is on.
This phenomenon is known as “choking”: what does this mean exactly?
Choking isn’t just poor performance; we all have ups and downs. Choking is performing worse than your skill level dictates or than you have performed in the past because you now find the situation stressful.