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Thread: Do very highly skilled people ever "choke" under? The answer is... no

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    Talking Do very highly skilled people ever "choke" under? The answer is... no

    See it for yourself.


    https://arxiv.org/abs/1809.07659

    Very Highly Skilled Individuals Do Not Choke Under Pressure: Evidence from Professional Darts

    Christian Deutscher, Marius Ötting, Roland Langrock, Sebastian Gehrmann, Sandra Schneemann, Hendrik Scholten (Submitted on 20 Sep 2018)

    Understanding and predicting how individuals perform in high-pressure situations is of importance in designing and managing workplaces, but also in other areas of society such as disaster management or professional sports. For simple effort tasks, an increase in the pressure experienced by an individual, e.g. due to incentive schemes in a workplace, will increase the effort put into the task and hence in most cases also the performance. For the more complex and usually harder to capture case of skill tasks, there exists a substantial body of literature that fairly consistently reports a choking phenomenon under pressure. However, we argue that many of the corresponding studies have crucial limitations, such as neglected interaction effects or insufficient numbers of observations to allow within-individual analysis. Here, we investigate performance under pressure in professional darts as a near-ideal setting with no direct interaction between players and a high number of observations per subject. We analyze almost one year of tournament data covering 23,192 dart throws, hence a data set that is very much larger than those used in most previous studies. Contrary to what would be expected given the evidence in favor of a choking phenomenon, we find strong evidence for an overall improved performance under pressure, for nearly all 83 players in the sample. These results could have important consequences for our understanding of how highly skilled individuals deal with high-pressure situations.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
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    I think the point here is actually that everyone chokes under pressure, but highly skilled individuals do not experience pressure in situations that do pressurize the less skilled.
    My own small experience of this involves dealing with very sick people undergoing emergency surgery. I often found that I was rather enjoying myself (apparently I used to whistle "Ode to Joy" under my breath). But I'd occasionally notice that less experienced people around me were suffering a real drop in performance - and part of the trick of dealing with these situations well was to give people little useful projects they could concentrate on, rather than leaving them exposed to the Big Picture. You go and make up the inotrope infusions; you deal with charting the fluid balance, and so on.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I think the point here is actually that everyone chokes under pressure, but highly skilled individuals do not experience pressure in situations that do pressurize the less skilled.
    My own small experience of this involves dealing with very sick people undergoing emergency surgery. I often found that I was rather enjoying myself (apparently I used to whistle "Ode to Joy" under my breath). But I'd occasionally notice that less experienced people around me were suffering a real drop in performance - and part of the trick of dealing with these situations well was to give people little useful projects they could concentrate on, rather than leaving them exposed to the Big Picture. You go and make up the inotrope infusions; you deal with charting the fluid balance, and so on.
    Your story appears to prove the paper was correct.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I think the point here is actually that everyone chokes under pressure, but highly skilled individuals do not experience pressure in situations that do pressurize the less skilled.
    My own small experience of this involves dealing with very sick people undergoing emergency surgery. I often found that I was rather enjoying myself (apparently I used to whistle "Ode to Joy" under my breath). But I'd occasionally notice that less experienced people around me were suffering a real drop in performance - and part of the trick of dealing with these situations well was to give people little useful projects they could concentrate on, rather than leaving them exposed to the Big Picture. You go and make up the inotrope infusions; you deal with charting the fluid balance, and so on.
    Well, obviously from the OP, you should have had them switch to acupuncture wherever useful.

    I would bet confidence correlates (inversely) well with choking. Was not a greater choking likelihood prominent in your first serious surgery?

    The dart data set is not surprising but there is a difference in circumstance here where confidence is not the main issue to avoid choking, IMO. Most people perform well what they already know how to do when it is a competitive sporting event. I have always performed better when playing against people better than me, including darts, and partly because the added pressure was my choice knowing that I would be motivated to play better.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Then too--there is Greg Norman at Amen corner...or this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dR1pkCGY80

    Poor Leon Lett....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Your story appears to prove the paper was correct.
    Well, no. Quite the opposite. I'm actually illustrating a flaw in the paper's conclusions, using my own experience as an example.
    The authors start by defining pressure as a mental state:
    Pressure results from individuals’ ambitions to perform in an optimal way in situations where high-level performance is in demand
    But that's not what they measure - they simply record situations in which they imagine a darts player would feel under pressure. They offer no evidence that these players were actually experiencing [their definition of] pressure at all. What they measured is not what the claim to have measured.

    My own experience of performing in potentially pressurizing situations for which I had expert levels of performance is that I felt absolutely no "ambitions to perform in an optimal way" - I just got on with a job that I knew very well how to do, and gained some enjoyment from doing that. Whereas the non-expert trainees assisting me had very strong ambitions to perform, for various reasons, and they experienced a deterioration in their performance compared to how I'd seen them work in less acute situations. Assigning them a single, useful but simple task allowed them to lose those ambitions to perform and let them just perform.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    I would bet confidence correlates (inversely) well with choking. Was not a greater choking likelihood prominent in your first serious surgery?
    That's my point. The authors define pressure as arising from an "ambition to perform". Once you're just performing, their definition of pressure is absent - and they have no measure of whether their definition of pressure is present or absent in the darts player dataset.

    Grant Hutchison
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    IOW if you do choke, then by their measure you are not a True Scotsman, oops I mean not highly skilled.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Did the study take into account the consumption of alcohol, then?

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    Quote Originally Posted by grapes View Post
    Did the study take into account the consumption of alcohol, then?
    I attempted to master that skill. It did not go well.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    IOW if you do choke, then by their measure you are not a True Scotsman, oops I mean not highly skilled.
    Well, you may be highly skilled, but you've fallen out of Csíkszentmihalyi's "flow state" (a characteristic of expert performance), so you suddenly start to experience their definition of "pressure", and that interferes with your ability to deliver a highly skilled performance, or to regain the flow state.

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    this flow state is partly muscle memory (a brain function) and partly experience. You hear the expression "the training kicked in" when pressure is applied. It has been observed that a highly skilled performance such as a professional golf swing can be upset by asking the person to explain what they are doing, that disturbs the flow state, while competitive pressure does not. Teaching or coaching a skill like that is quite different from doing it. It is experienced in driving a car, an experienced driver will do the right thing under stress without having to stop and think it through. The training kicks in. In brain wave examination of this flow state it can be found both in meditation and, for example, skilled surfing (the sea wave type), which has been studied using radio link EEG.
    sicut vis videre esto
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    How stressful can playing darts really be? Who gets hurt or dies if one messes up? Anyone who drives to work is in a situation with orders of magnitude more gravitas than throwing a little finned, pointy thing at a felt circle.
    Calm down, have some dip. - George Carlin

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    Quote Originally Posted by SkepticJ View Post
    How stressful can playing darts really be? Who gets hurt or dies if one messes up? Anyone who drives to work is in a situation with orders of magnitude more gravitas than throwing a little finned, pointy thing at a felt circle.
    It can be just a pub game but once tv took it up, there is both money and fame . And having played once or twice, if you are set up win for your team with a particular double, that can count as pressure.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by SkepticJ View Post
    How stressful can playing darts really be?
    The paper isn't about life-or-death stress, it's about pressure, defined as: "ambitions to perform in an optimal way in situations where high-level performance is in demand".

    If you're performing a psychomotor task that requires precision, and you experience an intrusive "ambition to perform", your ability can deteriorate below what you're capable of delivering. It's a commonly acknowledged problem for athletes and games players, but also for things as mundane as job interviews and a viva exams, or just walking across a narrow bridge with no handrails.

    Grant Hutchison
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    I haven't read the paper, but it seems to me that people who are highly skilled at something might indeed choke when under pressure for a different situation. Your surgeon might thrive under pressure in the operating theater but slam on the brakes when encountering unexpected ice in a car.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    I haven't read the paper, but it seems to me that people who are highly skilled at something might indeed choke when under pressure for a different situation. Your surgeon might thrive under pressure in the operating theater but slam on the brakes when encountering unexpected ice in a car.
    Yeah, expert performance is contextual, you acquire it by practising specific tasks. You can only get into that flow state for those tasks. Gladwell's "10,000 hours of practice" has been largely discredited, but there is certainly a time-consuming process involved which means that no-one (except, apparently, Robert Heinlein) can be skilled at everything.

    Grant Hutchison
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    The problem with expertise, of course, is that you keep getting better and better about less and less; until you're practically perfect about practically nothing.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    The problem with expertise, of course, is that you keep getting better and better about less and less; until you're practically perfect about practically nothing.

    There's a difference between expertise and expert performance, though. The old joke about knowing more and more about less and less applies to knowledge acquisition - knowing stuff. Expert performance applies to psychomotor tasks - doing stuff. We used to say that, if you were really sick in hospital, you needed an anaesthetist to come immediately and do stuff to keep you alive; the following morning it was time for a physician (in the US = internal medicine specialist) to come and think of stuff to make you better.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post

    There's a difference between expertise and expert performance, though. The old joke about knowing more and more about less and less applies to knowledge acquisition - knowing stuff. Expert performance applies to psychomotor tasks - doing stuff. We used to say that, if you were really sick in hospital, you needed an anaesthetist to come immediately and do stuff to keep you alive; the following morning it was time for a physician (in the US = internal medicine specialist) to come and think of stuff to make you better.

    Grant Hutchison
    I love medical personnel that discount their skills. I used to do this procedure where they injected me with the wrong blood type to get antibodies while people looked on in case there was a problem. They had a crash cart and explained the whole process of what they could do to me, including the disastrous "Are you an organ donor?" part. Hum... I knew that they were poking me with a needle and monitoring me, but from my perspective it was sort of like a Space Shuttle launch. "Wow! This is crazy!!!"

    And everything was so profession, so focused on detail and well rehearsed, I am pretty sure they were completely bored.
    Solfe

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    I'm generally amazed that pro (and college) basketball players can sink two or three free throws in the final seconds with the game on the line, and everybody screaming and shouting.

    However, some "experts" say that hitting a baseball is the toughest thing of all, and indeed the best hitters only succeed (in getting a hit) 30% of the time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I think the point here is actually that everyone chokes under pressure, but highly skilled individuals do not experience pressure in situations that do pressurize the less skilled.
    I think that is the point. What I find odd, though, is that it seems perfectly intuitive to me that that is true. I'm not sure why you need to do a study on it. It's like, I suspect that tall people tend to bump their heads into doorways more often than short people do, but I don't think you really need a study to show that.
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by DonM435 View Post

    However, some "experts" say that hitting a baseball is the toughest thing of all, and indeed the best hitters only succeed (in getting a hit) 30% of the time.
    I would venture that it's a function of the distance. It's like in football. Catching a penalty shoot is really, really hard, because the kicker is so close to the goal. If the penalty was shot from twice the distance, then I think nearly all goals would be caught.
    As above, so below

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    I used to compete in a motorcycle sport called "trials" at the very top level back in the 80's/90's. I often choked and buckled under pressure but conversely produce some of my best performances under the most extreme pressure. For me it was down to personal confidence. On the days I felt confident the more pressure the better I performed, I found that I went into a sort of euphoric state where I felt almost invincible. On the days my confidence was low, I tensed and felt like a big weight was on my shoulders, like I was being suffocated, trapped...

    The top performers are those who feel the most confident most of the time. You see this in most sports where they dominate in competition for long periods, though in practice sessions they are no better than all the rest of their competitors. In fact I have witnessed firsthand a fella who was sensational in practice sessions, he should have been world champion many times over. But he had low self esteem and during competition he told me he felt so anxious it consumed him, no therapy (which he had plenty of) ever succeeded in him dealing with the pressure of competition.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I think that is the point. What I find odd, though, is that it seems perfectly intuitive to me that that is true. I'm not sure why you need to do a study on it. It's like, I suspect that tall people tend to bump their heads into doorways more often than short people do, but I don't think you really need a study to show that.
    Except that such a study might reveal the reverse is true. Tall people, realising the risk, take extra care. Average sized people encountering an unexpectedly low doorway are not predisposed to caution and hit there heads.
    My speculation may be correct; you may be correct. We would need a study to determine which (if either) was true. Studies convert opinions to 'facts'.

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    When a baseball player is hitting .300 steadily, my educated guess is that he is not choking in the 7 times out of 10 that he doesn't get a hit. He is simply being defeated fair and square by skilled pitchers. When the pitcher throws breaking stuff in which the motion is undetectable until the ball is about halfway to the plate or more, the best hitter in the world will not be able to react fast enough to change the course of the bat enough to hit it cleanly. If that same batter goes into a bad slump, he may be choking a lot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I think that is the point. What I find odd, though, is that it seems perfectly intuitive to me that that is true. I'm not sure why you need to do a study on it. It's like, I suspect that tall people tend to bump their heads into doorways more often than short people do, but I don't think you really need a study to show that.
    To some extent it's a "check every hypothesis" approach. And the bulk of the literature cited by these authors deals with "choking" (which has huge financial importance in sports psychology), so their data on "not choking" might be considered a useful datum. (And more likely to find a publisher, because of the Proteus effect.)
    But I'd say some of it is just "We've got the data, what can we do with?", feeding into the way in which careers in science are currently assessed (in part) by the proxy of publications.
    It also looks as if this paper has not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed publication, and it doesn't seem particularly well thought out to me - I think a peer reviewer would want the authors to tighten up their discussion and alter their claims.

    And that, I guess, is a pitfall with arXiv - it's great that lay readers can access all these papers as pre-prints, but they're also seeing the very start of the discussion about the papers' scientific merits (or otherwise), and can easily come away with a false impression.

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    It can be just a pub game but once tv took it up, there is both money and fame .
    Oh, there was money even before TV took it up. Not huge money, but still. I used to go to dart tournaments. There were several throughout the year. Didn't do that well in the biggies (North American Open in Vegas), but at the L.A. Open I did knock out Stefan Lord, who had earlier won the News of the World tournament. Of course, I got knocked out the next round by a local hotshot. Yeah, there can be pressure! I guess the trick is to just put it aside. I figure pro golfers must have it tough!
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eclogite View Post
    Except that such a study might reveal the reverse is true. Tall people, realising the risk, take extra care. Average sized people encountering an unexpectedly low doorway are not predisposed to caution and hit there heads.
    My speculation may be correct; you may be correct. We would need a study to determine which (if either) was true. Studies convert opinions to 'facts'.
    Sure, I understand. I'm not against studies like this, since, as you say, they might give a surprising answer. I just thought that in this case it seemed pretty intuitive.
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Sure, I understand. I'm not against studies like this, since, as you say, they might give a surprising answer. I just thought that in this case it seemed pretty intuitive.
    How often do things determined scientifically to be factual, turn out to be counter-intuitive?

    Human intuition is not a very precise instrument for determining the nature of things. It is only a few hundred thousand years old, an eyeblink in evolutionary terms, and is still rough around the edges.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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