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Title: Understanding the neurocognitive mechanisms of sports performance under pressure through cognitive training
Author: Ducrocq, Emmanuel
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 4696
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2019
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Accumulating research has emphasised that anxiety can profoundly interfere with task performance during sporting competitive contexts. Recent research has implicated disruptions to attentional control in explaining such impairments. The present PhD thesis intended to build upon recent advances in sports science and cognitive affective neuroscience, by marrying theoretical predictions from the Attentional Control Theory (ACT; Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos & Calvo, 2007) with recent developments in cognitive training, to develop lab based training interventions, to improve attentional focus and performance in lab-based and field-based sporting tasks performed under pressure. In doing so, another critical aim of the thesis was to identify potential neurocognitive mechanisms by which the experience of pressure related anxiety in sporting contexts can lead to impairments in motor performance. In Chapter 2, a sample of tennis players undertook training on a novel visual search training task designed to enhance inhibitory control. Transfer effects of training were observed on a lab index of inhibition, tennis performance and gaze behaviours reflecting attentional control in tennis. Results of Chapter 3 in turn revealed that training on a an adaptive working memory training task, resulted in transfer effects on indices of WMC, tennis performance and gaze behaviours. In Chapter 4 an 5 the emphasis was placed on the potential impact of attentional biases on performance under pressure. In Chapter 4, tennis players undertook an Attentional Bias Modification training intervention and results indicated that the intervention elicited significant changes in attentional bias with transfer effects of training also being observed on tennis performance. Finally, in Chapter 5, a study was conducted to explore whether neural markers of cognitive effort and error monitoring would modulate the attentional bias-performance relationship in a sample of experienced tennis players. Result indicated that the relationship between levels of attentional biases and tennis performance was modulated by the N2 as measured on a flanker task. Performance was also associated with participants' levels of attentional biases which was in turn modulated by their gaze behaviours during the tennis task performed under pressure. Overall, findings from this PhD thesis suggest that it is possible to target specific cognitive mechanisms such as attentional control and attentional biases, using lab based interventions, to enable athletes to cope with the negative impact of competitive pressure on motor performance. Moreover, the current findings provide novel insight into the potential neurocognitive mechanisms that modulate how sports performers respond to competitive pressure.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available