Monkeys respond to high pressure situations by choking, just like humans do
Researchers think the monkeys choked because they became overly-cautious in their task
It can happen to anybody: we do something under pressure that we've done easily a million times. But for some reason, when stakes are really high — maybe a lot of people are watching — we can't do it. We choke.
According to a recent study, we're not the only animal species who buckle under pressure.
Steven Chase, a professor in Carnegie Mellon's Department of Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience Institute, trained Rhesus monkeys to do a challenging sensory-motor task that involved manipulating a cursor on a display screen for a reward. Before each trial the monkeys would get a cue to indicate the size of their reward if they successfully completed the task.
As the researchers increased the reward — from small to medium, to large — the monkeys got better at the task. But when they offered a jackpot-sized reward, the monkeys' performance took a nosedive by around 10 to 25 per cent.
Just like in humans, when the monkeys saw the jackpot cue, their performance got worse.
Chase said the reason they did worse when a jackpot-sized reward was on the line was the opposite of what he was expecting. He thought the monkeys would get overly excited by the jackpot reward and jump the gun. Instead, they saw the opposite behaviour in the monkeys: they were overly cautious.
This suggests that choking under pressure is a trait that's stuck through evolution and is inherent in the neural circuitry we share with monkeys.
Produced and written by Sonya Buyting. To hear the interview with Prof. Steven Chase, click the link at the top of the page.