Exploring the thoughts and attentional focus of music students under pressure


Musicians often play under circumstances in which pressure may lead to anxiety and performance deterioration. Theories suggest that a drop in performance is due to a shift in focus of attention towards task-irrelevant information. In this study, we asked music students to report what they think and where they focus attention in three situations: when they play under pressure (Study 1; n = 81), the moment just before choking under pressure and when they try to recover after a mistake (Study 2; n = 25). Focus of attention was examined using retrospective verbal reports and point-spread distributions. Besides a notable focus on music-related information (36.9%), music students reported a considerable number of worries and disturbing thoughts (26.1%) during playing under pressure (Study 1). Just before choking, they showed even more worries and disturbing thoughts (46.4%) at the cost of music-related focus (21.1%) (Study 2), as also confirmed by the point-spread distributions. During recovery after a mistake, attention was mainly focused on music-related information (53.0%) and less on thoughts that give confidence (18.5%) and physical aspects (16.6%). It is advisable to help music students with improving their performance, for example, by attentional control training or providing training with elevated levels of anxiety.

Reference Oudejans, R. R. D., Spitse, A., Kralt, E., & Bakker, F. C. (2017). Exploring the thoughts and attentional focus of music students under pressure. Psychology of Music, 45(2), 216-230. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735616656790
Published by  Urban Vitality 1 March 2017

Publication date

Mar 2017


Anne Spitse
Elmer Kralt
Frank C. Bakker


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