Listening under pressure : the downside of motivation




Lam, Pak Wing

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The desire for self-improvement is critical to human performance and learning outcomes. Paradoxically, however, being subjected to increased performance pressure can also result in “choking under pressure”. No studies have experimentally examined the extent to which motivation impacts native speech processing. This dissertation manipulated performance pressure in listeners, and systematically examined its impact on three speech-processing experiments. Sixty adult native English listeners and 45 non-native listeners with poorer English proficiency completed three speech processing experiments, twice – once to establish a baseline, and again to measure changes in performance. In these experiments using native English speech, listeners detected (illusionary) sound changes, categorized phonemes under lexical interference, and recognized words in noises. After baseline testing, half of the participants in each language group were instructed to work, with a fictitious partner, towards a performance-contingent monetary reward; the other half, as controls, simply performed the tasks a second time. This study demonstrated a negative impact of performance pressure on native listeners in all experiments. Relative to the controls, the motivation group were more susceptible to illusions, failed to ignore lexical interference despite prior exposure, and recognized fewer words in cognitively-demanding listening situations. Unexpectedly, relative to native listeners, non-native listeners perceived it as less important to perform well, and those who were in the high performance-pressure group requested significantly greater amount of money for improvement. These language-group differences in task-related attitudes might be a confounding factor that moderate the effect of motivation. By illustrating a complex interaction among motivation, listener status, and performance-induced demands, this dissertation highlights the importance of motivation in speech science.


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