Accomplished People More Likely To Fail Under Stress

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People high in working memory end up using shortcuts under pressure and perform worse.

Talented people often choke under pressure because the distraction caused by stress consumes their working memory, a psychologist at the University of Chicago has found.

Highly accomplished people tend to heavily rely on their abundant supply of working memory and are therefore disadvantaged when challenged to solve difficult problems, such as mathematical ones, under pressure, according to research by Sian Beilock, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago. Her findings were presented Saturday, Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

People with less adequate supplies of working memory learn other ways of problem solving to compensate for their deficiencies and although these alternative problem solving strategies are not highly accurate, they are not impacted additionally by working under pressure, the research found.

Oddly enough, I've always found the opposite to be true. I'm more easily distracted when I'm not under pressure, and when put in stressful situations, I focus more than usual and am a better problem solver than normal. That may explain why I always took tests well even though I didn't study so much. Not that I was a bad student, I just had lots of intellectual interests outside of my boring college curriculum.

In related news, Harvard Business School is putting some students under more stress to help them learn how to deal with it.