More on the fragility of performance: choking under pressure in mathematical problem solving

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2004 Dec;133(4):584-600. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.133.4.584.


In 3 experiments, the authors examined mathematical problem solving performance under pressure. In Experiment 1, pressure harmed performance on only unpracticed problems with heavy working memory demands. In Experiment 2, such high-demand problems were practiced until their answers were directly retrieved from memory. This eliminated choking under pressure. Experiment 3 dissociated practice on particular problems from practice on the solution algorithm by imposing a high-pressure test on problems practiced 1, 2, or 50 times each. Infrequently practiced high-demand problems were still performed poorly under pressure, whereas problems practiced 50 times each were not. These findings support distraction theories of choking in math, which contrasts with considerable evidence for explicit monitoring theories of choking in sensorimotor skills. This contrast suggests a skill taxonomy based on real-time control structures.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Mathematics*
  • Memory*
  • Problem Solving*
  • Reaction Time
  • Surveys and Questionnaires