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Study: Neuroscientists pinpoint the brain and performance impact of a (perceived) judgmental audience

brain_scans_anxietyWhy your brain makes you slip up when anx­ious (Sci­ence Dai­ly):

As musi­cians, fig­ure skaters and any­one who takes a dri­ving test will know, the anx­i­ety of being watched can have a dis­as­trous effect on your per­for­mance…

In the new study, pub­lished in Sci­en­tif­ic Reports, par­tic­i­pants’ brain activ­i­ty was mon­i­tored while car­ry­ing out a task that required them to exert a pre­cise amount of force when grip­ping an object.

Dur­ing the exper­i­ment, they viewed video footage of two peo­ple whom they believed were eval­u­at­ing their per­for­mance. They then repeat­ed the task while view­ing video footage of two peo­ple who appeared to be eval­u­at­ing the per­for­mance of some­one else.

Par­tic­i­pants report­ed that they felt more anx­ious when they believed they were being observed. Under this con­di­tion, they gripped the object hard­er with­out real­is­ing it. Scan results showed that an area of the brain that helps us to con­trol our fine sen­so­ri­mo­tor func­tions — the infe­ri­or pari­etal cor­tex (IPC) — became deac­ti­vat­ed when peo­ple felt they were being observed…

For those with extreme per­for­mance anx­i­ety, she said there has been a sub­stan­tial advance­ment in brain stim­u­la­tion tech­niques such as the tran­scra­nial mag­net­ic stim­u­la­tion (TMS) and tran­scra­nial direct cur­rent stim­u­la­tion (tDCS), which could acti­vate desired behav­iour.

And there are also now var­i­ous types of neu­ro­feed­back train­ing, which can help peo­ple to learn how to con­trol their own brain activ­i­ty.

She added: “It’s impor­tant to believe that the audi­ence is sup­port­ing you and wish­ing for your suc­cess­ful per­for­mance.”

Study: Why I tense up when you watch me: Infe­ri­or pari­etal cor­tex medi­ates an audience’s influ­ence on motor per­for­mance (Sci­en­tif­ic Reports)

  • Abstract: The pres­ence of an eval­u­a­tive audi­ence can alter skilled motor per­for­mance through changes in force out­put. To inves­ti­gate how this is medi­at­ed with­in the brain, we emu­lat­ed real-time social mon­i­tor­ing of par­tic­i­pants’ per­for­mance of a fine grip task dur­ing func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance neu­roimag­ing. We observed an increase in force out­put dur­ing social eval­u­a­tion that was accom­pa­nied by focal reduc­tions in activ­i­ty with­in bilat­er­al infe­ri­or pari­etal cor­tex. More­over, deac­ti­va­tion of the left infe­ri­or pari­etal cor­tex pre­dict­ed both inter- and intra-indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in social­ly-induced change in grip force. Social eval­u­a­tion also enhanced acti­va­tion with­in the pos­te­ri­or supe­ri­or tem­po­ral sul­cus, which con­veys visu­al infor­ma­tion about oth­ers’ actions to the infe­ri­or pari­etal cor­tex. Inter­est­ing­ly, func­tion­al con­nec­tiv­i­ty between these two regions was atten­u­at­ed by social eval­u­a­tion. Our data sug­gest that social eval­u­a­tion can vary force out­put through the altered engage­ment of infe­ri­or pari­etal cor­tex; a region impli­cat­ed in sen­so­ri­mo­tor inte­gra­tion nec­es­sary for object manip­u­la­tion, and a com­po­nent of the action-obser­va­tion net­work which inte­grates and facil­i­tates per­for­mance of observed actions. Social-eval­u­a­tive sit­u­a­tions may induce high-lev­el rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al inco­her­ence between one’s own inten­tioned action and the per­ceived inten­tion of oth­ers which, by uncou­pling the dynam­ics of sen­so­ri­mo­tor facil­i­ta­tion, could ulti­mate­ly per­turbe motor out­put.

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Peak Performance

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