Performances suffer when stakes are high

Sports performances can suffer when the stakes are high and there is the prospect of a lucrative reward for the victor. This is the suggestion of new research published in the journal Neuron, which found people often become so scared of missing out on this incentive that their showing on the track or field is hampered.

Investigators from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) demonstrated that people who are paid too much may see their performance negatively impacted as a result.

While previous research has indicated people may get overexcited by the prospect of a cash windfall, this study found it is worry about losing the prize that causes individuals to choke.

Vikram Chib, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech, said: "We're showing loss aversion even though there are no explicit losses anywhere in the task - that's very strange and something you really wouldn't expect."

He explained that while people initially view a monetary prize as a gain, they later become worrisome this award might be taken away from them.

Dr Peter Coffee, Chartered Psychologist, from the University of Stirling, commented: "The fear of failure haunts many good athletes and when the stakes are high the consequences of failure are greater.

"What happens when athletes do choke? Some research we've done suggests that, following failure, functional attributions can lead to subsequent improvements.

"Specifically, focusing on a controllable aspect can lead athletes to exercise their self-efficacy (confidence) and improve their performance."