By Jenny Gong
In sports, when it gets down to those few crucial final seconds in a game, even the most experienced football player could miss an easy pass that could have scored the winning touchdown. Professional basketball players with years of training can miss easy free throws that could have led to a win. When that much pressure is placed on one person, it’s easy for them to “choke”.
Recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that performance depends on two factors: the incentive of winning and a person’s aversion to loss. In their study, the participants were given $100 to play a game inside in MRI machine. At the end of 300 rounds, one random round was chosen to determine what reward the participant would receive. In a separate test, each participant was asked if they would take 140 coin toss gambles for to win money. Researchers performed this test to determine each participant’s aversion to loss.
By using the MRI, researchers were able to determine that the ventral striatum was triggered during the experiment. Those with high loss aversion had lower striatal activity and performed worse when faced with high potential gains. On the other hand, those with lower loss aversion had lower striatal activity when faced with large potential losses.
Through this experiment, the researchers were able to conclude that the ventral striatum plays a pivotal role in motivation and performance. Hopefully, by doing further research into the ventral striatum we will one day be able to overcome our loss aversion and the term “choking under pressure” will become obsolete.
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