The effect of anxiety on anticipation, allocation of attentional resources, and visual search behaviours

D.B. Alder, P. R. Ford, J. Causer, A. M. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Successful sports performance requires athletes to be able to mediate any detrimental effects of anxiety whilst being able to complete tasks simultaneously. In this study, we examine how skill level influences the ability to mediate the effects of anxiety on anticipation performance and the capacity to allocate attentional resources to concurrent tasks. We use a counterbalanced, repeated measures design that required expert and novice badminton players to complete a film-based anticipation test in which they predicted serve direction under high- and low-anxiety conditions. On selected trials, participants completed an auditory secondary task. Visual search data were recorded and the Mental Readiness Form v-3 was used to measure cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety and self-confidence. The Rating Scale of Mental Effort was used to measure mental effort. The expert players outperformed their novice counterparts on the anticipation task across both anxiety conditions, with both groups anticipation performance deteriorating under high- compared to low-anxiety. This decrease across anxiety conditions was significantly greater in the novice compared to the expert group. High-anxiety resulted in a shorter final visual fixation duration for both groups when compared to low-anxiety. Anxiety had a negative impact on secondary task performance for the novice, but not the expert group. Our findings suggest that expert athletes more effectively allocated attentional resources during performance under high-anxiety conditions. In contrast, novice athletes used more attentional resources when completing the primary task and, therefore, were unable to maintain secondary task performance under high-anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-89
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Movement Science
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2018


  • Attention
  • Perceptual-cognitive skill
  • Performance
  • Skill acquisition


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