Talented People, Stress and Choking


Does having a highly capable intellect ensure you will perform well all the time, and always do better in performance situations?

Not according to some research. This is from a news article:

“Talented people often choke under pressure because the distraction caused by stress consumes their working memory, a psychologist at the University of Chicago has found.

“Highly accomplished people tend to heavily rely on their abundant supply of working memory and are therefore disadvantaged when challenged to solve difficult problems, such as mathematical ones, under pressure, according to research by Sian Beilock, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago.”

From Highly accomplished people more prone to failure than others when under stress.

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Sian L. Beilock is a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Chicago. “Her research program sits at the intersection of cognitive science and education. She explores the cognitive and neural substrates of skill learning as well as the mechanisms by which performance breaks down in high-stress or high-pressure situations.”

High ability students, testing and choking – Beilock says high ability students may be most susceptible to performance pressure.

Photo: “Students take a university entrance examination at a lecture hall in the Andalusian capital of Seville, southern Spain.”

From article: Brief Written Exercise Eases Test Anxiety by Voice of America.


“Researchers say they’ve developed a way to help people with extreme test-taking anxiety to relax before their exams.  The technique involves having test-takers write down their fears, and that simple exercise is credited with a dramatic improvement in test scores.

“Many people are nervous before they take a test.  But some people are so consumed by anxiety that they actually sabotage themselves, performing poorly on the exam even when they know the material they are being tested on.

Sian Beilock is a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago in Illinois who has studied why students become so nervous that they are unable to perform in a test-taking situation.”

She says, “They start worrying about the consequences.  They might even start worrying about whether this exam is going to prevent them from getting into the college they want.  And when we worry, it actually uses up attention and memory resources. I talk about it as your cognitive horsepower that you could otherwise be using to focus on the exam.”

“Beilock and colleague Gerardo Ramirez developed an exercise in which students identified as high anxiety test-takers spend ten minutes, just before an exam, writing down all of their fears and concerns.”

[Read the article: Writing about worries help students deal with test anxiety By Gerardo Ramirez and Sian L. Beilock.]

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Book: Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. by Sian L. Beilock.

Also hear Beilock talking about “Overthinking and Choking” and “The Curse of Expertise” on the page:
Thriving In Work and Life: An Online Conference.

Related articles:

Reaching for Excellence: Gifted Students

Taylor SwiftThe impact of giftedness on psychological well-being by Maureen Neihart, Psy.D.


But anxiety is not confined to just students and test situations; there are other ‘flavors’ of anxiety such as insecurity and impostor feelings.

See my article Talented and insecure with quotes by and about Taylor Swift; Will Smith; John Lennon and others.

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Helping  anxious people

award girlsDeirdre V. Lovecky, Ph.D. is Director of the Gifted Resource Center of New England and a psychologist who specializes in working with gifted children.

She mentioned in an April 2014 edition of the CGEPNETWORK list (American Psychological Association Center for Gifted Education Policy) that she “often uses HeartMath with anxious children in my clinical practice.”

There are many testimonials about the values of this technology for people – adults as well as children.

Read about HeartMath in my post [with video] Positive emotion and “Science of the Heart”.

Or, visit their website HeartMath.com.

Also, see multiple articles and resources on my sites:

Anxiety Relief Solutions

Facebook / Depression, Anxiety and Creativity


Originally posted 2007-04-20 16:31:53.


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