The Body Mechanics behind Choking

This blog post is Part 2 of a 4-part blog series featuring the work of University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock.

Have you ever wondered why you choke sometimes even though you have executed the same athletic maneuver perfectly literally hundreds of times? You can find an answer to this question on a recent Brain Science Podcast. Ginger Campbell, MD, interviews University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, PhD, author of the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.

Beilock notes that a stressful situation for one person is not trying for another person. All you need for a suboptimal performance is a “perceived” stressor. “In essence, we often let our emotions get the best of us; we’re not good at attending to wheat we want to and ignoring others, which can lead us to … start perseverating on what our wrist is doing when we’re just trying to get the shot off in the important game,” says Beilock.

On the athletic field, we often perform with no thought of what we are actually doing. We are simply executing moves our body knows how to do innately thanks to years of practice and performance. Beilock believes that under duress, “people start paying too much attention—they exert too much of their explicit attention to what they’re doing; which actually disrupts their performance.”

Scientifically speaking, the brain’s prefrontal cortex is malfunctioning. This front part of our brain is “the seat of our thinking and reasoning ability.” When we are worried about situations, “this uses important resources—our ability to think, attend on the fly.”

Join us for Part 3 of this blog series to begin learning tips to prevent choking during your athletic performances.

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