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Irrational Beliefs and Choking under Pressure: A Preliminary Investigation

Mesagno, Christopher and Tibbert, Stephanie and Buchanan, Edward and Harvey, Jack and Turner, Martin (2020) Irrational Beliefs and Choking under Pressure: A Preliminary Investigation. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. ISSN 1041-3200

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Abstract

Researchers who examine existing models of choking under pressure are beginning to explore the antecedents that predispose individuals to increased anxiety. Irrational beliefs (IBs) may be one such antecedent to “choking”, given that irrational beliefs are closely associated with anxiety intensity. This study aimed to investigate whether IBs influenced anxiety and performance under pressure. Experienced Australian football players (N=35) completed an IBs questionnaire prior to an Australian football set shot experiment with low- and high-pressure. During both pressure conditions, participants completed a state anxiety questionnaire prior to completing 15 set shots on goal. Results indicated that cognitive and somatic anxiety increased from low- to high-pressure. For somatic anxiety, an IBs main effect approached significance, indicating higher somatic anxiety with increases in IBs. A marginally significant Condition main effect was found for performance, which decreased from low- to high-pressure, with no other effects for performance evident. Follow-up correlation analysis of seven athletes who likely experienced choking (i.e., greater than 15-point performance decrease) indicated a strong negative correlation between IBs and change in performance from low- to high-pressure. Further analyses for “chokers” indicated a significant IBs x Condition interaction, with performance tending to increase with increasing IBs under low-pressure and decrease with increasing IBs under high-pressure. This study provides initial, tentative support that IBs associated with performance trends of “chokers” under different pressure conditions may be dissimilar to those of “underperformers” or “clutch” performers. Applied implications for sport psychologists working with athletes are discussed.

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