Futurity

How to predict which Olympic athletes won’t choke

The bigger the reward, the more likely athletes are to choke. Here's what happens in the brain.

Brain scans could reveal which of two equally trained, equally fit, equally talented Olympic athletes will likely choke under pressure, says Vikram Chib. It’s whoever is most excited about winning gold, and all the pride, glory, and potential cash that come with it.

“The people that can maintain very stable reward activity tend to be the ones that don’t choke under pressure.”

Chib, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, studies how incentives motivate performance. He’s found that when people are playing for high stakes, those likely to choke have wild swings of activity in an area deep in the brain that encodes value. In these people, the bigger the incentive, the more the area lights up. But once they start the activity where money is on the line, that activity plummets, the same way it would when someone thinks about losing. That neural deactivation can affect the player’s motor skills—and they choke.

“Think of a hockey player taking a penalty shot,” Chib says. “They might think to themselves, I’m going to score. But when they actually take the shot, they become worried about the possibility of failure and they miss. We think that the areas of the brain that are responsible for encoding reward and potential gains and losses are what’s coming online and interfering with their motor performance. Even a hockey player that’s trained thousands upon thousands of hours, these worries about loss or gain can interfere with their performance.”

The athletes most likely to bring home a medal, Chib says, are either hard-wired to keep their cool when the stakes are high, or they’ve found a way to get mentally in the zone.

“We found when you frame things appropriately, your neural activity stays pretty constant. You don’t get really amped up for high gains or really depressed for losses,” he says. “The people that can maintain very stable reward activity tend to be the ones that don’t choke under pressure.”

Source: Johns Hopkins University

The post How to predict which Olympic athletes won’t choke appeared first on Futurity.

More from Futurity

Futurity3 min readScience
Team Pinpoints Cause Of Fatal Disorder In Kids
Scientists appear to have solved a decades-long mystery regarding the precise biochemical pathway leading to Krabbe disease, a fatal genetic disorder in children. Studying a mouse model with the same human illness, the researchers also identified a p
Futurity3 min readSelf-Improvement
Smoking Abstinence Doesn’t Really Make Us Want To Eat More
Some people think that smokers who can’t light up will reach for food in lieu of cigarettes. But a new study suggests smoking abstinence doesn’t greatly affect our motivation for food. For the study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers used cu
Futurity2 min readScience
Tiny ‘Envelopes’ Show Promise For Sun-damaged Skin Repair
Exosomes harvested from human skin cells are more effective at repairing sun-damaged skin cells in mice than popular retinol or stem cell-based treatments currently in use, according to a new proof-of-concept study. Additionally, needle-free injectio