AUSTIN, Texas—The National Institute of Mental Health awarded a five-year, $1.3 million grant to University of Texas at Austin psychologists Arthur Markman and Todd Maddox to support their research on what motivates people to learn and what causes people to "choke" under pressure.
From sports arenas to office buildings to classrooms, people often perform tasks while trying to earn a reward or avoid punishment, Markman, director of the university’s Similarity and Cognition Lab, said. The researchers hope to pinpoint the learning strategies people use to complete a task and if rewards and punishments help or hinder progress.
"Whether it’s a year-end bonus or a demerit system, we give people incentives because we think they will perform better and try harder," Markman said. "But it’s not clear when or if those incentives are truly effective."
Markman and Maddox also will study why and under what circumstances people either crumble or thrive under pressure. Working with the university’s Imaging Research Center, they will examine how situational factors affect a person’s brain activity while he or she is performing a task.
"We want to investigate not only how people make decisions, but how they respond to pressure psychologically," Markman said. "Does it affect their mood? Does it create feelings of anxiety or depression?"
Markman believes the results of the research will have implications for many industries, including business, education, athletics and mental healthcare.
For more information contact: Arthur Markman, Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing, 512-232-4645; Todd Maddox, professor, Department of Psychology, 512-471-6175; Tracy Mueller, public affairs specialist, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-2404.