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Performance Anxiety

February 3, 2016

Scientists pinpoint regions of the brain that work together to trip us up when we’re being scrutinized.


David W. Carmichael Mao_Asada_2010_Olympic_FP CC BY-SA 3.0

Olympic figure skaters like Mao Asada face intense scrutiny on the ice, which can affect their performance. (David W. Carmichael, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia)


Brain blunders. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s hard to drive safely with a backseat driver nitpicking your every move. And just knowing you’re being judged can crush your confidence during a competition. A new study in Scientific Reports identifies two brain regions that work together to trigger performance anxiety. Brighton and Sussex Medical School psychiatrist Neil Harrison and his team observed the brain activity of volunteers while they completed a simple physical task.

NEIL HARRISON (Brighton and Sussex Medical School):

When people believed they were being watched, they described feeling much more anxious. 


And their brain activity increased in a part of the temporal lobe that processes social cues. This, in turn, inactivated parts of the parietal lobe, important for fine motor control, resulting in poor performance. But believing that the audience wishes you well could help keep performance anxiety in check. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard