The effects of anxiety on motor performance: A test of the conscious processing hypothesis

Richard Mullen, Lew Hardy, A. Tattersall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this study was to examine the conscious processing hypothesis as an explanation of the anxiety/performance relationship. The study was designed to identify conscious processing performance effects while controlling for an alternative attentional threshold explanation identified in previous research. Participants completed 60 golf putts. They completed 3 blocks of 10 putts in single task, task-relevant shadowing, and task-irrelevant tone-counting conditions. Each set of 3 × 10 putts was completed in low and high anxiety conditions. Anxiety was elevated using an instructional set. Self-reported effort and spectral analysis of heart rate variability were used to examine the patterning of effort across the different putting conditions. Findings indicated that performance was impaired in the high anxiety shadowing and tone-counting conditions, supporting an attentional threshold interpretation. Spectral analysis of heart rate variability indicated that potential compensatory increases in spectral power in the high frequency band associated with dual-task putting in the low anxiety condition were absent in the high anxiety tone-counting and shadowing putting conditions, partially reflecting the performance findings. No effects were found for self-reported effort. Taken together, the performance and heart rate variability results support an attentional interpretation of the anxiety/motor performance relationship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-225
JournalJournal of sport and exercise psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • competitive state anxiety
  • golf putting
  • spectral analysis
  • effort


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