Reappraisal of incentives ameliorates choking under pressure and is correlated with changes in the neural representations of incentives

Simon Dunne, Vikram S. Chib, Joseph Berleant, John P. O'Doherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


It has been observed that the performing for high stakes can, paradoxically, lead to uncharacteristically poor performance. Here we investigate a novel approach to attenuating such 'choking under pressure' by instructing participants performing a demanding motor task that rewards successful performance with a monetary gain, to reappraise this incentive as a monetary loss for unsuccessful performance. We show that when participants applied this simple strategy, choking was significantly reduced. This strategy also influenced participants' neural and physiological activity. When participants reappraised the incentive as a potential monetary loss, the representation of the magnitude of the incentive in the ventral striatum Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent (BOLD) signal was attenuated. In addition, individual differences in the degree of attenuation of the neural response to incentive predicted the effectiveness of the reappraisal strategy in reducing choking. Furthermore, participants' skin conductance changed in proportion to the magnitude of the incentive being played for, and was exaggerated on high incentive trials on which participants failed. Reappraisal of the incentive abolished this exaggerated skin conductance response. This represents the first experimental association of sympathetic arousal with choking. Taken together, these results suggest that reappraisal of the incentive is indeed a promising intervention for attenuating choking under pressure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-22
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 4 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • choking
  • reappraisal
  • skin conductance
  • ventral striatum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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