Why we choke when the pressure's on

November 4, 2010

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

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With only eight seconds left, Scott Norwood pushes the would-be game winning field goal wide right in Super Bowl XXV. (AP)

The Choke. A person shines in practice, gets called in to deliver during that pivotal moment in the big game...and they can’t. They choke.

Who knows why, maybe it’s the bright lights? The pressure, or the trash talking? Whatever, they just can’t bring it, they can’t do their best.

So what explains the tendency to drop the ball – literally or figuratively – when the pressure’s on?

Sian Beilock, associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, investigates in her new book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.

WBEZ’s Gabriel Spitzer talked with Beilock, who says there’s a major concept that unlocks the secret of the choke. It’s called working memory.

Sian Beilock will give a talk in Tinley Park this Sunday at the University of Chicago’s Harper Lecture.

Music Button: The Mercury Program, "You Yourself Are Too Serious", from the CD A Data Learn The Language, (Tigerstyle)