Why does performance deteriorate under pressure?


Experts such as pianists, athletes and surgeons learn their skills through extensive practice. However, the neurophysiological and psychological mechanisms underlying the problem of making errors due to psychological stress remain unexplored under pressure situations such as piano competitions or the Olympics. Training to prevent such mistakes also remains unexplored, despite the fact that they can pose a threat to one’s profession and career.

Dr Shinichi Furuya and colleagues at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc., along with Kwansei Gakuin University alumnus Professor Noriko Nagata and Reiko Ishimaru, discovered a training method to prevent fine motor impairment pianists due to psychological stress. The research group examined the robustness of processes that integrate auditory functions that perceive timing and motor functions that produce precise finger movements, transiently delaying the timing of sound production on an electronic piano to the Using a tailor-made auditory feedback system that can manipulate the volume and timing of piano sounds, then assess the degree of disturbance in piano performance immediately after the disturbance.

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First, in Experiment 1, by artificially generating rhythmic errors during piano performance, we sought to clarify how pianists use auditory information to skillfully control the movement of their fingers. While the pianists were playing a piece of music at a specified tempo, we artificially delayed the timing of sound production from 80 milliseconds (one millisecond is one thousandth of a second) to the moment the pianist could not predict, and have investigated the extent to which subsequent performance was disrupted. In order to create a situation of increased psychological stress, another pianist observed and evaluated the performance while standing right next to the playing pianist. In addition, a video camera was placed in front of the artist in order to record the performance. The experiment was conducted with 11 pianists, and we found a significant decrease in the accuracy of the timing of the keystrokes with the presentation of delayed auditory feedback, only during performances in which the pianists were under psychological stress. This reaction is similar to that shown by those with no previous musical training experience (i.e. non-musicians) in situations without psychological stress. This indicates that with psychological stress, abnormally excessive motor disturbances occur as a reaction to erroneous information derived from the auditory perception of rhythm. However, such dysfunctions associated with psychological pressure have not been observed for the auditory function of discriminating between two sounds presented successively and the identification of the time interval between them, or the motor function responsible for speed and speed. precision of movement when moving fingers at the fastest speed. .

Next, in Experiment 2, we examined the effects of auditory-motor training using our auditory feedback system with 30 pianists. The training lasted for tens of minutes, after which the pianists were invited to perform under psychological stress. The research groups included two training groups with 10 pianists each: a training group that practiced ignoring the delay in the timing of sound production during piano performance (delay-ignore group); and a training group that practiced the strikes with faster than normal timing to compensate for the artificial delay in sound production (delay-adaptation group). In addition, there was another group of 10 pianists (control group) who had not received any training. A post-workout analysis was conducted to examine the performance disturbance (errors in the timing of the strike) caused by the presentation of delayed auditory feedback under psychological stress. This suggests that training normalized pianists’ ability to integrate auditory perception and movement, and so pianists could prevent erroneous finger movements in response to erroneous auditory information about rhythm, even under psychological stress. One of the reasons for this could be that, since the group to ignore the delay was trained not to excessively respond to abnormal auditory stimuli during performance, the training normalized the mental and physical functions that responded with an excessive degree of sensitivity to detected errors. through the ear under psychological pressure.

In summary, the deterioration of musical performance due to psychological stress was associated with a dysfunction of the skills of experts to control movement appropriately using auditory information, which degraded participants’ performance to a beginner’s level. The study also found that such skill impairment can be avoided with specialized sensorimotor training.

These findings may aid in the development of new theoretical approaches to pressure choking training and training systems for optimal performance under psychological stress, and to elucidate the neuroscientific, physiological and psychological mechanisms behind problems such as ‘performance anxiety and “yips” (symptoms of tension and anxiety in which actions that could be performed without problem in the normal situation cannot be performed as expected).

This research was conducted as part of the JST core strategic research program, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST).

Research area: “Creation and development of basic technologies interfacing human and information environments” Research theme: “A study on the mechanisms of skills acquisition and the development of skills transfer systems”

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