|Gunslingers, poker players, and chickens 1: Decision making under physical performance pressure in elite athletes
|Parkin, B., Warriner, K. and Walsh, V.
|Wilson, M., Walsh, V. and Parkin, B.
Objective: This study investigated the influence of physical performance pressure on decision making in a sample of world-class elite athletes. This allowed an examination of whether findings from the previous work in nonelite athletes extend to those who routinely operate under conditions of high stress. How this work could be applied to improve insight and understanding of decision making among sport professionals is examined. We sought to introduce a categorization of decision making useful to practitioners in sport: gunslingers, poker players, and chickens.
Methods: Twenty-three elite athletes who compete and have frequent success at an international level (including six Olympic medal winners) performed tasks relating to three categories of decision making under conditions of low and high physical pressure. Decision making under risk was measured with performance on the Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT; Rogers et al., 1999), decision making under uncertainty with the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART; Lejuez et al., 2002), and fast reactive responses and interference with the Stroop Task (Stroop, 1935). Performance pressures of physical exhaustion was induced via an exercise protocol consisting of intervals of maximal exertion undertaken on a watt bike.
Results: At a group level, under physical pressure elite athletes were faster to respond to control trials on the Stroop Task and to simple probabilistic choices on the CGT. Physical pressure was also found to increase risk taking for decisions where probability outcomes were explicit (on the CGT), but did not affect risk taking when probability outcomes were unknown (on the BART). There were no significant correlations in the degree to which individuals’ responses changed under pressure across the three tasks, suggesting that elite athletes did not show consistent responses to physical pressure across measures of decision making. When assessing the applicability of results based on group averages to individual athletes, none of the sample showed an “average” response (within 1 SD of the mean) to pressure across all three decision-making tasks.
Conclusion: There are three points of conclusion. First, an immediate scientific point that highlights a failure of transfer of work reported from nonelite athletes to elite athletes in the area of decision making under pressure. Second, a practical conclusion with respect to the application of this work to the elite sporting environment, which highlights the limitations of statistical approaches based on group averages and thus the beneficial use of individualized profiling in feedback sessions. Third, the application of this work in a sports setting is described, in particular the development and implementation of a decision-making taxonomy as a framework to conceptualize and communicate psychological skills among elite sporting professionals.
|Decision making; Elite athletes; Exercise; Exhaustion; Physical pressure; Risk taking
|Sport and the Brain: The Science of Preparing, Enduring and Winning, Part B
|05 Oct 2017
|Digital Object Identifier (DOI)