Around The Web: Most Valuable Players So Far + The Science Of Choking

Beyond The Box Score: Glenn DuPaul takes a look at the most valuable players of April and May. A.J. Ellis tops the hitter’s list, while former Dodger James McDonald tops the pitcher’s list.

The New Yorker: Scientifically, what makes players choke?

So far, so obvious: the extra money led people to get more excited about the potential rewards, which led them to work harder. This is why businesses give people bonuses.

However, when the subjects actually began playing the video game, the striatum did something very peculiar. All of a sudden, the activity of the brain area became inversely related to the magnitude of the reward; bigger incentives led to less excitement. Furthermore, activity in the insula was closely correlated with success, with decreased activity leading to decreased performance.

What explains this result? The researchers argue that the subjects were victims of loss aversion, the well-documented psychological phenomenon that losses make us feel bad more than gains make us feel good.

There is something poignant about this deconstruction of choking. It suggests that the reason some performers fall apart on the back nine or at the free-throw line is because they care too much. They really want to win, and so they get unravelled by the pressure of the moment. The simple pleasures of the game have vanished; the fear of losing is what remains.

Basically? Because they care about winning.

About Chad Moriyama

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