Sunday, October 9, 2016

Personality Traits and Choking

As a social psychologist, I believe the situation has a strong influence on behavior, over and above a person's traits. Of course, I do recognize the existence of personality - I'm a big fan of the Big Five theory, which states that our personality can be summed up by where we fall on five continua: openness to change, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. When I've measured personality in past studies, I used a measure developed to assess the Big Five (take one such test here).

A recent study also used the Big Five traits, to try to understand why people choke under pressure. According to their work, one of the Big Five explains who choked under pressure: people high in neuroticism:
Previous research, conducted by Sian Beilock and Thomas Carr, has shown that although individuals may be highly competent in low-pressure contexts, their performance may significantly decrease once the pressure is on. One explanation for why this happens is that anxiety acts as a distractor, sapping cognitive resources such as working memory away from the task at hand and ultimately harming performance.

On the basis of this previous work, Kaileigh Byrne, Crina Silasi-Mansat, and Darrell Worthy hypothesized that individuals with higher levels of neuroticism would experience greater performance anxiety, leading to worse decision-making strategies under pressure.

“This theory offers a potential mechanism by which neurotic individuals may fail when they most need to succeed,” Byrne and colleagues explain.
They conducted two studies, one that created pressure by telling individuals their decisions would impact a (fictional) team member, and another creating pressure with deadlines. In both studies, they found people high in neuroticism performed less well than people low in neuroticism when the pressure was on. In the low pressure conditions, there was no difference.

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