What is pressure? Evidence for social pressure as a type of regulatory focus Academic Article uri icon


  • Previous research (Markman, Maddox, & Worthy, 2006) suggests that pressure leads to choking when one is learning to classify items on the basis of an explicit rule, but it leads to excelling when one is learning to classify items on the basis of an implicit strategy. In this article, we relate social pressure to regulatory focus theory. We propose that the effects of pressure on performance arise because pressure induces a prevention focus that interacts with the more local reward structure of the task. To test this hypothesis, we repeated previous research, but using a losses reward structure, so that participants under pressure were in a regulatory fit. We also successfully replicated previous results by using a gains reward structure. In contrast with participants who attempted to maximize gains on each trial, participants who attempted to minimize losses choked on the implicit-learning task but excelled on the explicit-learning task. The results suggest a three-way interaction between pressure level, task type, and reward structure.

author list (cited authors)

  • Worthy, D. A., Markman, A. B., & Maddox, W. T.

citation count

  • 23

publication date

  • April 2009