Why panic makes us do bet­ter

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS -

ASKED to give a speech in front of an au­di­ence, many peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence sweaty palms and a ris­ing sense of panic.

But the fear of hu­mil­i­a­tion ac­tu­ally spurs us on — we per­form bet­ter when peo­ple are watch­ing, a study has found.

Re­searchers asked volunteers to play a tricky com­puter game, pay­ing them a small amount based on how well they did.

When watched by an au­di­ence of two, 18 of the 20 par­tic­i­pants did an av­er­age of 5 per cent bet­ter than when play­ing alone. Scans showed that when they knew they were be­ing ob­served, the parts of the brain linked to so­cial aware­ness and re­ward trig­gered those con­trol­ling mo­tor skills to im­prove per­for­mance.

The study’s lead au­thor Dr Vikram Chib, from Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity in the US, said: “An au­di­ence can serve as an ex­tra bit of in­cen­tive.”

The find­ings, pub­lished in So­cial Cog­ni­tive and Af­fec­tive Neu­ro­science, sug­gest a small au­di­ence boosts the in­cen­tive to do well — but a larger au­di­ence could in­crease anx­i­ety past an op­ti­mum level.

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