Daily Archives: April 20, 2010

NHL San Jose’s Dan Boyle wins the game for the other team and supports “choking” phenomenon.

Last Sunday night during Game 3 of the San Jose Sharks/Colorado Avalanche NHL Western Conference playoff series, the Sharks took three times as many shots as the Avalanche, kept the puck on Colorado’s end, and generally owned the game. Nonetheless, the score remained at 0-0 almost a minute into overtime. And then the worst possible dose of bad luck (or insane miscalculation?) befell San Jose’s Dan Boyle: he inadvertently scored the winning goal for the Colorado Avalanche. According to CBSSports.com columnist Ray Ratto, the deflection of Boyle’s clearing pass to defenseman Douglas Murray, “to the amazement of all living things… whipped into a tiny hole between the right post and San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov.”

Thing is, Dan Boyle is in pretty good company. Time after time, we witness acts of “choking under pressure” – especially in sports, but also in other anxiety-eliciting domains of life such as during testing situations, presenting to a group of colleagues or superiors, or performing a musical instrument. Choking, otherwise known as failing in the clutch or performing at suboptimal levels under pressure conditions, happens to the best of us and social psychologist Roy Baumeister has determined the conditions under which the phenomenon is most likely to occur.

Baumeister labels four pressure variables – audience pressure, competition, performance-contingent rewards and punishments, and ego-relevance of the task – as determinants of choking; needless to say, all of these variables were present in full-force at Dan Boyle’s mishap on Sunday. Further, Baumeister notes that choking may result from a self-focused attention that interferes with the execution of automatic, routinized processes (such as, oh I don’t know, moving around a puck during a professional hockey game in which you are a professional hockey player). In particular, Baumeister suggests that pressure makes the person want to do well, so the performer focuses conscious attention on the process of performance. However, since skills are responses that are overlearned and automatic, attending to them consciously interferes with or inhibits them; conscious attention to an automatic behavior paradoxically causes misalignment between brain and behavior and, frequently, ultimate failure at the task. Other theories suggest that having to perform under pressure causes a self-awareness that precludes awareness of the environment in which one is surrounded, thereby causing the performer to fail to process task-relevant information.

Whatever the case may be, no matter how we social psychologists attempt to rationalize and intellectualize the antecedents of choking, we’re sure that none of this is making Dan Boyle feel any better. Good thing he has an old Stanley Cup lying around somewhere to make up for it.

Footage of Dan Boyle’s goal for other team

Sharks own track record to fit Boyle’s own goal

A review of paradoxical performance effects: Choking under pressure in sports and mental tests

Political Ideology is Alive and Well

In the middle of the 20th century, a group of researchers pronounced political ideology dead. They argued that most individuals do not know enough about their beliefs to have an ideology. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to this claim, the emergence of heated Tea Party protests and the overall Tea Party movement indicates that political ideology is alive and well. Social psychological research also backs up this claim (Jost, Nosek, & Gosling, 2008). Political psychologist John Jost and his colleagues have found numerous differences between those that have conservative and liberal ideologies, even though they may not be aware of it.

The strongest differences concern system justification and change (Jost & Hunyady, 2005; Jost et al., 2008). Specifically, conservatives are more likely to support maintaining the status quo or hold stronger system-justifying attitudes. For example, a New York Times/CBS News poll indicates that the Tea Party supporters are upset about the amount of support that the current United States administration is giving to minorities and lower social classes. This is quite reflective of what Jost and his colleagues describe in their research on system justification. As far as change goes, conservatives are less likely to be supportive of change. This is quite evident in the Tea Party, as seen in the following quote from Sarah Palin (a voice supported by many in the Tea Party movement): “Is this what their ‘change’ is all about? I want to tell ‘em, Nah, we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion — and you can keep the change.” To conclude, while individuals may not fully understand their ideologies, humans are indeed “ideological animals”, as Jost and Hunyady (2005) conclude.

Jost, J. T. et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136

Jost, J. T. & Hunyady, O. (2005). Antecedents and Consequences of System-Justifying Ideologies. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 260-265

New York Times/ABC News Poll about Tea Partiers

Time Magazine Quote of the Day: Sarah Palin Wednesday, Apr. 14, 2010