If you’ve practiced diligently, you’ll triumph when your skill level meets a worthy challenge. Yet when an audience is observing, when the stakes are high or when the penalties for failure are large, even accomplished performers can choke as their thought processes take an unwelcome detour to the prefrontal cortex – the home of insecure self-appraisals. Cognitive scientist Sian Leah Beilock examines performance anxiety and shares her firsthand experience. getAbstract recommends her practical tips to anyone who wants to learn to excel under pressure.


If you ask a college soccer player to dribble a ball down the field, you’ll likely witness an effortless display of athleticism. Have the same player repeat the exercise, this time focusing on which side of the foot makes contact with the ball, and you’ll see a clumsier performance. The latter situation mimics the pressure a player might feel on game day. When athletes are relaxed, their moves are automatic. Apply a little pressure, and they overanalyze their movements, which inhibits their flow. The human brain can handle only so much, and under pressure, it often will focus on the wrong details, derailing performance. This choking phenomenon is called “overattention” or “<...

About the Speaker

Cognitive scientist Sian Leah Beilock is the president of Barnard College. She studies performance anxiety.

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