Anxiety: Attention, the Brain, the Body, and Performance

Mark R. Wilson

in The Oxford Handbook of Sport and Performance Psychology

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199731763
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Anxiety: Attention, the Brain, the Body, and Performance

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  • Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • Neuropsychology



In sport psychology, the relationship between competitive anxiety and performance has been one of the most debated and researched topics of enquiry. However, the mechanisms underlying this relationship are still unclear, as are the reasons why performance can sometimes be optimal (“clutch” performance) and sometimes far below what should be achieved (“choking”). The current chapter integrates research findings and models from the neuroscience, cognitive psychology, human movement science, and sport performance literature to offer a potential explanatory framework, especially with respect to self-paced, visually guided skills. The mediating role of visual attention is implicated, as it has been proposed to be central to both the top-down control of motor planning and the effects of anxiety on cognitive performance. Contemporary research testing the effects of anxiety on visual attention (particularly the quiet eye) in performance environments, and the efficacy of attentional training programs, are discussed.

Keywords: Attention; gaze; quiet eye; pressure; choking; competition

Article.  13116 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Health Psychology ; Neuropsychology

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