Diekfuss, J., Ward, Paul and Raisbeck, L.D. (2014) Somatic anxiety and skill level: The effects on skilled performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 36 (S27). ISSN 0895-2779

Skill level (Gray, 2004) and state of arousal (Arent & Landers, 2003) have been shown to affect task execution. However, the relative influence of these factors on performance when attentional focus is directed towards different features of the task is less clear. Expert (n = 9) and novice (n = 9) participants completed a simulated shooting in which they fired and reholstered a Glock 17 handgun under three conditions. In the strategic skill focus (SSF) condition, participants were instructed to report the position of their trigger finger on hearing an audible stimulus. In the non-strategic skill-focused (NSSF) condition, they were instructed to report the position of their shoulder, whereas the control condition required no audible identification. Participants’ shooting performance was averaged across trials and skill level was categorized based on overall shooting performance. The CSAI-2 was used to categorize participants by their level of state somatic anxiety (SSA). For skill level, experts (M = 171.96, SD = 9.86) performed significantly better than novices (M = 126.63, SD = 16.05), t(16) = 7.21, p < .001, d = 3.40, with no differences found amongst skill-focus conditions for either skill level. Shooting performance, however, was affected when categorized by their SSA. Specifically, those who scored high in SSA performed significantly better in the NSSF (M = 142.50, SD = 22.75) than in the SSF condition (M = 119.17, SD = 40.23), t(5) = 2.63, p = .05, d = .71. No difference was observed between those scoring low and high in SSA in the SSF condition. However, the effect size data indicated a trend toward superior performance for those exhibiting low SSA (d = 1.07). These results suggest that participants’ SSA may influence performance more than skill level when their attention is directed towards strategic aspects of performance. We postulate that those who experience high levels of SSA during task execution, irrespective of skill level, may benefit by directing their attention towards less strategic aspect of the task.

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