Anxiety-induced changes in movement behaviour during the execution of a complex whole-body task

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We investigated the impact of anxiety on movement behaviour during the execution of a complex perceptual-motor task. Masters' (1992) conscious processing hypothesis suggests that under pressure an inward focus of attention occurs, resulting in more conscious control of the movement execution of well-learned skills. The conscious processes interfere with automatic task execution hereby inducing performance decrements. Recent empirical support for the hypothesis has focused on the effects of pressure on end performance. It has not been tested so far whether the changes in performance are also accompanied by changes in movement execution that would be expected following Masters' hypothesis. In the current study we tested the effects of anxiety on climbing movements on a climbing wall. Two identical traverses at different heights on a climbing wall provided different anxiety conditions. In line with the conscious processing hypothesis we found that anxiety had a significant effect on participants' movement behaviour evidenced by increases in climbing time and the number of explorative movements (Experiments 1 and 2) and by longer grasping of the holds and slower movements (Experiment 2). These results provide additional support for the conscious processing hypothesis and insight into the relation between anxiety, performance, and movement behaviour.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute for Fundamental and Clinical Human Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Publication date: April 1, 2005

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