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Choking under pressure and the organization of task performance:  Can we explain choking, dual-task interference, speed-accuracy tradeoff, stereotype threat, and "Matthew Effects" in reading development with a common set of principles?

Dr. Tom Carr
Michigan State University

For several years Sian Beilock and I, in collaboration with colleagues and students, have studied a set of topics that do not often live together under the same laboratory roof.  We believe that three principles derived from standard conceptualizations of working memory, attention, and automicity can explain all of these performance-related phenomena that on their surface don't seem much alike.  The first principle is that if a task requires executive control of a sequence of steps or maintenance of intermediate products, then a problem will be created by distracting attention away from step-by-step execution of the task.  The second principle is that if a task has become automated by integrating its steps into a procedure or motor program, then a problem will be created by turning attention toward step-by-step execution of the task.  The third principle is that if a task has become automated by transforming it from a series of steps into a process of retrieving the answer from memory, then it will be as safe from assault as a task can get.  I will describe some of the experiments on performance of sensorimotor tasks (such as golf putting) and cognitive tasks (such as mathematical problem solving) that led us to this position.