Choking under pressure and working memory capacity: When performance pressure reduces fluid intelligence

Abstract

Recent findings (Beilock & Carr, 2005) have demonstrated that only individuals with a high working memory capacity (WMC) “choke under pressure” on math problems with high working memory demands. This suggests that performance pressure hinders those who are the most qualified to succeed, because it consumes the WMC they usually rely on to achieve superior performance. This puts into question the use of performance in high-pressure situations as a means of distinguishing individuals with lesser or greater WMC potentials. While addressing several limitations of past research, we offer evidence that such choking (1) occurs only in individuals with high WMC, because of their anxiety-ridden perceptions of high-stakes situations, and (2) is not confined to tasks involving acquired skills and knowledge, but encompasses fluid reasoning abilities or intelligence (Gf). These findings have strong implications for assessments of people’s intellectual capacities in academic, clinical, work, and research settings.

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Correspondence to Pascal Huguet.

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This research was supported in part by a graduate fellowship from the Conseil Regional PACA to the first author and by CNRS Grant JC 6082 to P.H. The article is based on a doctoral dissertation by D.G. under the supervision of P.H. and J.-P.C. at the University of Aix-Marseille 1.

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Gimmig, D., Huguet, P., Caverni, J. et al. Choking under pressure and working memory capacity: When performance pressure reduces fluid intelligence. Psychon Bull Rev 13, 1005–1010 (2006). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03213916

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Keywords

  • Journal ofExperimental Psychology
  • State Anxiety
  • Stereotype Threat
  • Reading Span
  • High Work Memory Capacity