Reappraisal of Incentives Ameliorates Choking Under Pressure and Is Correlated with Changes in the Neural Representations of Incentives
It has been observed that the pressure of performing for high stakes can, paradoxically, lead to uncharacteristically poor performance. Here we investigate a novel approach to attenuating such 'choking under pressure' by instructing participants performing a demanding motor task that rewards successful performance with a monetary gain, to reappraise this incentive as a monetary loss for unsuccessful performance. We show that when participants applied this simple strategy, choking was significantly reduced. This strategy also influenced participants' neural and physiological activity. When participants reappraised the incentive as a potential monetary loss, the BOLD representation of the magnitude of the incentive in ventral striatum was attenuated. In addition, individual differences in the degree of attenuation of the neural response to incentive predicted the effectiveness of the reappraisal strategy in reducing choking. Furthermore, participants' skin conductance changed in proportion to the magnitude of the incentive being played for, and was exaggerated on high incentive trials on which participants failed. Reappraisal of the incentive abolished this exaggerated skin conductance response. This represents the first experimental association of sympathetic arousal with choking. Taken together, these results suggest that reappraisal of the incentive is indeed a promising intervention for attenuating choking under pressure.
Additional Information© 2018 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Received: 03 July 2018; Revision Received: 17 October 2018; Accepted: 21 November 2018; Published: 27 November 2018. This work was funded by grant NSF 1062703 from the National Science Foundation to J.P.O.D. Conflict of interest. None declared.
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