Working memory capacity, controlled attention and aiming performance under pressure


This study explored the possibility that individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) could predict those individuals who would experience attentional disruptions and performance decrements under pressure. Two WMC groups performed a Stroop handgun task under counterbalanced conditions of threat whilst wearing eye-tracking equipment that measured visual search activity and quiet eye (QE) aiming duration. Performance was measured in terms of shooting accuracy. Low-WMC individuals experienced impaired visual search time to locate the target and reduced QE durations when shooting at incongruent target words. Furthermore, the low-WMC group experienced significant reductions in shooting accuracy when anxious. Conversely, high-WMC individuals experienced no significant differences in attentional control or performance across congruency or threat conditions. Results support the suggestion that WMC is not only a good predictor of an individual’s ability to control their attention but can also predict those likely to fail under pressure.

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  1. 1.

    Three participants from each initially screened group were omitted from the study, prior to completing the handgun task, as their OSPAN scores indicated that they were neither of high or Low WMC (M = 47.10, SD = 4.43). Also, two participants had CFQ scores that indicated high/low WMC but had contradictory OSPAN scores.


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Correspondence to Greg Wood.

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Wood, G., Vine, S.J. & Wilson, M.R. Working memory capacity, controlled attention and aiming performance under pressure. Psychological Research 80, 510–517 (2016).

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  • Visual Search
  • Target Word
  • Attentional Control
  • Work Memory Capacity
  • Work Memory Capacity Group