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Choking and Excelling at the Free Throw Line

By Darrell A. Worthy, Arthur B. Markman and W. Todd Maddox


Psychological research suggests that trying to avoid a negative outcome and trying to attain a positive outcome have different effects on performance (Higgins, 1997). We explored this prospect by examining free throw performance among NBA basketball players at the ends of games when the player’s team was ahead or behind in a clutch situation. Players tended to shoot worse than their career average when their team was behind or when their team was ahead by one point. In contrast, players tended to shoot better than their career average when the game was tied. Thus, the point margin affected a player’s likelihood of choking or excelling under pressure. This research provides a novel real-world analysis of the phenomenon of choking under pressure that could guide and motivate future research

Year: 2010
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