Our paper “Monkeys exhibit a paradoxical decrease in performance in high-stakes scenarios” was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). From the article:

Significance. Choking under pressure is a frustrating phenomenon experienced sometimes by skilled performers as well as during everyday life. The phenomenon has been extensively studied in humans, but it has not been previously shown whether animals also choke under pressure. Here we report that rhesus monkeys also choke under pressure. This indicates that there may be shared neural mechanisms that underlie the behavior in both humans and monkeys. Introducing an animal model for choking under pressure allows for opportunities to study the neural causes of this paradoxical behavior.

Abstract. In high-stakes situations, people sometimes exhibit a frustrating phenomenon known as “choking under pressure.” Usually, we perform better when the potential payoff is larger. However, once potential rewards get too high, performance paradoxically decreases—we “choke.” Why do we choke under pressure? An animal model of choking would facilitate the investigation of its neural basis. However, it could be that choking is a uniquely human occurrence. To determine whether animals also choke, we trained three rhesus monkeys to perform a difficult reaching task in which they knew in advance the amount of reward to be given upon successful completion. Like humans, monkeys performed worse when potential rewards were exceptionally valuable. Failures that occurred at the highest level of reward were due to overly cautious reaching, in line with the psychological theory that explicit monitoring of behavior leads to choking. Our results demonstrate that choking under pressure is not unique to humans, and thus, its neural basis might be conserved across species.

Contrats to all of the authors: Adam Smoulder, Nick Pavlosky, Patrick Marino, Nicole McClain, Aaron Batista, and Steve Chase.

Associated press/news:

Full citation: Smoulder, A.L.*, Pavlosky, N.P.*, Marino, P.J.*, Degenhart, A.D., McClain, N.T., Batista, A.P.^, Chase, S.M.^ Monkeys exhibit a paradoxical decrease in performance in high-stakes scenarios. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021). (*,^: denotes equal contributions) https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2109643118