Anxiety and Ironic Errors of Performance: Task Instruction Matters

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We present five experiments that examined Wegner’s (1994) theory of ironic processes of mental control in reactive motor performance under pressure for the first time. In Experiments 1, 2 and 4, we conducted specific examinations of the incidence of ironic error using a reactive motor task. In Experiments 3 and 5 we provided the first tests of whether task instruction moderates the incidence of ironic errors. The task required participants to react to a series of three primary color balls as they rolled down a chute under low- and high-anxiety conditions. Measures of anxiety, heart rate, heart rate variability and muscle activity confirmed the effectiveness of the anxiety manipulation. Experiments 1, 2 and 4 revealed that anxiety increased the number of ironic errors. In Experiments 3 and 5, we provided the first evidence that instructional interventions can reduce the incidence of anxiety-induced ironic performance errors in reactive motor tasks.


  • human movement, mental control, pressure, reactive task
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-95
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date27 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

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