Background and objectives: Specificity of practice proposes optimal performance is linked to the conditions under which learning occurred. The present study investigated this effect within a pressure context to determine whether offline and/or online control processes develop specificity through the introduction or removal of performance pressure.
Methods: Forty novices practiced a two-dimensional stimulus-response discrimination task in one of four groups; two control (control-control and anxiety-anxiety) and two experimental (control-anxiety and anxiety-control). In the experimental groups, participants experienced a switch in conditions of pressure both early and late in practice, i.e., practiced in low-pressure and transferred to high-pressure (control-anxiety group) or the reverse of this (anxiety-control group).
Results: A significant acquisition-to-transfer decrement in performance occurred for both experimental groups. This offers support for a pressure-performance specificity effect because a change in conditions of pressure (regardless if that was an increase or decrease) resulted in performance decrements. Furthermore, the reaction time measure of offline control was affected by the change to a significantly greater extent than the movement time measure of online control.
Conclusions: Increases in offline control processes was a performance strategy adopted to combat the disruption that pressure caused to the processes associated with adjusting or planning movements online.