Thursday, April 15, 2010

Distinguishing between "choking" and "panicking"

If you've ever "choked" in any kind of performance (e.g. when you're far ahead in a snooker game and just need this one, simple shot to win, you can do this, just keep your shoulder down and your elbow straight, follow through with the cue and WHAT THE-), then this utterly superb article will have you nodding your head in acknowledgement, understanding and compassion.

Not only does it explain and separate the notions of panicking (reversion to instinct) and choking (loss of instinct) under pressure with dramatic examples, it introduces the interesting form of choke that is "stereotype threat" (which seems to correspond with something I wrote a while ago):
"Steele and others have found stereotype threat at work in any situation where groups are depicted in negative ways. Give a group of qualified women a math test and tell them it will measure their quantitative ability and they'll do much worse than equally skilled men will; present the same test simply as a research tool and they'll do just as well as the men."

Ultimately, we're faced with a Schrodinger-type paradox, whereby external, theoretically irrelevant variables (audience, expectations, prize, etc) influence performance on a task:
"We have to learn that sometimes a poor performance reflects not the innate ability of the performer but the complexion of the audience; and that sometimes a poor test score is the sign not of a poor student but of a good one."

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