This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Relations Between Choking Under Pressure and Sleep on a Cognitive Task in College Students




Cler, Katherine

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling


The current study intended to explore how three sleep-related variables predicted the phenomenon of choking under pressure by utilizing a task that required the use of working memory abilities to solve problems as quickly and accurately as possible. Participants were recruited through SONA and all participants were undergraduate students from Auburn University. Questionnaires were utilized to assess demographic information, caffeine intake, measure state anxiety (CSAI-2R; Cox, Martens, & Russell, 2003), performance pressure (Beilock et al., 2004), sleep disturbance and variations in the wake cycle (STQ; Monk et al., 2003), and subjective sleep disturbance (PROMIS Short Form v1.0 – Sleep Disturbance 8b, 2018). Working memory capacity was measured by averaging the scores between two working memory tasks (OSPAN; Turner & Engle, 1989; ARSPAN; Conway et al., 2005). Modular arithmetic as demonstrated in Beilock (2008), Beilock and DeCaro (2007), Beilock et al. (2004), and Mattarella-Micke et al. (2011), was used in this study because the task requires WM capabilities to mentally hold information (e.g., storage), while solving (e.g., processing) the entire problem. The dependent variables accuracy and reaction time were measured based upon participants responses to correctly solved high demand problems. A data collection error resulted in only the initial half of the Sleep Timing Questionnaire being administered to all participants. Thus, the variables sleep duration and variations in the wake cycle were unable to be analyzed and the confirmatory analyses for sleep duration and the exploratory analyses for variations in the wake cycle were not run. The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) was used to conduct all analyses. Two hierarchical linear regressions were used to test the exploratory analysis for sleep disturbance. There were limited significant findings. This could be because results indicate that the high pressure scenario did not produce the desired effect of creating a high pressure environment. Significant findings were found for the dependent variable, reaction time, which was not anticipated. Results indicated that lower sleep disturbance statistically predicted faster reaction times where reaction times were calculated by subtracting the change in reaction time between the two experimental blocks. Lower sleep disturbance moderated the relationship between working memory capacity and reaction time. Specifically, reaction times were faster among students who reported low sleep disturbance and demonstrated higher working memory capacities. For students with high sleep disturbance, working memory capacity did not significantly predict reaction time. These results provide information to those that work with students or employees in settings that require high-order cognitive abilities and consider the positive benefits of obtaining quality sleep.