Al-Nakeeb, Y., Lyons, M., & Nevill, A. M. (2008). The impact of competition and the presence of others on performance. ACSM 55th Annual Meeting Indianapolis, Presentation Number 1421.

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This study examined Zajonc's theory on the effects of competition and the presence of an audience on the performance of a novel task. Following practice, physically active young adults (N = 24) were assigned to one of two groups (skilled or unskilled) based on the practice scores. Each S performed two blocks of six attempts on a novel dart-aiming task under three conditions (alone, competition, and audience). Ss also completed a Sport Emotions Questionnaire following each condition to measure their state anxiety. In addition, Ss' heart rate was monitored continuously during the three testing conditions to measure physiological arousal.

A significant interaction between condition and skill level was revealed. While performance of the skilled group improved under audience and competition conditions, the unskilled group’s performance deteriorated under those conditions. Significant differences were found between the state anxiety levels under the three conditions, with the highest being under the audience condition followed by the competition then alone conditions. In addition, significant differences for heart rate during performance were found with the audience condition inducing the highest heart rate followed by competition and alone conditions.

Implication. Novel-task performance in skilled performers is facilitated in the presence of an evaluative audience or in competition. The performance of unskilled performers deteriorated. The presence of an evaluative audience or a competitive environment significantly increased performers’ anxiety level and heart rate. These results support the learned drive hypothesis in explaining the role of competition and evaluation apprehension in influencing the performance of motor skills.

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