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Fear of loss, combined with positive or negative incentives, influences performance under pressure

Everyone knows the scene: a basketball player at the free throw line, bouncing the ball as he concentrates on the basket. It’s a tight game, and his team needs this point. He regularly makes baskets from much farther away while avoiding defenders, but now, when all is calm, he chokes and misses the basket, and his team loses. Recent research from The University suggests that in situations like this, performance depends on two factors: the framing of the incentive in terms of a loss or a gain, and a person’s aversion to loss.

[A Diagram of the Skilled Task]
‘X’ is the start position. The object of the task is to move both dots into the square within two seconds. This is challenging, because moving the cursor only controls the green ‘ball;’ the yellow ‘ball’ is attached to it via a virtual spring. When you move your hand toward the target, the yellow ball oscillates.
Credit: Vikram Chib, Johns Hopkins Medicine


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Other authors of the report include Shinsuke Shimojo and John O’Doherty of the California Institute of Technology.

This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (1062703), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Japan Science and Technology Agency/Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology, and the California Institute of Technology/Tamagawa Global Center of Excellence.

Johns Hopkins Medicine