, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 351–363 | Cite as

When errors count: an EEG study on numerical error monitoring under performance pressure

  • Frieder L. SchillingerEmail author
  • Bert De Smedt
  • Roland H. Grabner
Original Article


In high-stake tests, students often display lower achievements than expected based on their skill level—a phenomenon known as choking under pressure. This imposes a serious problem for many students, especially for test-anxious individuals. Among school subjects, mathematics has been shown to be particularly vulnerable to choking. To succeed in a mathematics test, it is important to monitor ongoing responses, and to dynamically adapt to errors. However, it is largely unknown how academic pressure changes response monitoring and whether this depends on individual differences in test anxiety. In the present study, we aimed to start answering these questions by combining behavioral performance measurements with electroencephalography (EEG) indices of response monitoring. Eighteen participants performed a numerical Stroop task in two pressure scenarios: a high pressure condition modeling a real-life test situation and a low pressure control condition. While behavioral performance data provided mixed evidence, EEG indices suggested changed response monitoring in the high pressure condition as well as in relatively test-anxious participants. These findings highlight the role of response monitoring under academic performance pressure.


Choking under pressure Test anxiety Response monitoring Event-related negativity (ERN) 



The authors want to thank Anna Hinze and Isabel Müller for their help with data collection.

Supplementary material

11858_2015_746_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (123 kb)
Figure S1. Scatter plot of mean response times (A) and accuracy (B) as a function ofperformance pressure and test anxiety (raw values). Numbers indicate individual subjects.Linear regression lines were fitted for each pressure condition for illustrative purposesd. (PDF 853 kb)


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Copyright information

© FIZ Karlsruhe 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frieder L. Schillinger
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Bert De Smedt
    • 3
  • Roland H. Grabner
    • 2
  1. 1.Georg-Elias-Müller-Institute of PsychologyUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GrazGrazAustria
  3. 3.Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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