Performing under pressure: ESRC research in BBC test

Cyclists1 May 2012

A new BBC online test uses ESRC-funded research to explore how people handle tasks under stress. 'Can you compete under pressure?', a 20 minute online test fronted by Olympic athlete Michael Johnson, provides participants with a personal performance analysis and advice on mental preparation.

The BBC Lab UK test, which aims to be 'the biggest ever study of the psychology of pressure', is based on research by Professors Andy Lane and Peter Totterdell at the ESRC-funded Emotion Regulation of Others and Self (EROS) research network.

"What we'll be measuring in this experiment is the connection between controlling emotions and the reaction to performing poorly or very well," the EROS researchers explains on the BBC Lab UK website.

They have designed a game that generates a sense of increasing pressure, including an 'opponent' based on real pilot performances to introduce a competitive element. Three types of psychological skills are tested – visualisation, self-talk and ‘if-then’ planning. The test shows which one of these techniques is most effective at improving performance by applying them separately on the participant, followed by an analysis of the effect it had.

"The big question is: can the psychological skills used by top sportspeople be used to prepare us for other moments of intense pressure? And if so – which ones are most effective? These are just two of the questions we are hoping to answer with the data generated," says Lane and Totterdell.

Other areas the online experiment could shed light on include the effect of emotion on performance, and strategies to change emotional states.

"Because the ability to regulate emotions has been shown to be important in areas of life from family and work relationships to how we deal with risk, the data from 'Can you compete under pressure?' should have application well beyond the world of sport," conclude the researchers.