Women are less likely to Choke under Competitive Pressure: Study

Gender Equality

That women continue to face gender-based pay gap is not news.  They continue to remain under-represented in high-profile, high-paying positions, in fast-growing professions and almost missing when it comes to STEM subjects, almost globally. What is new is a study which shows that Women Respond Better Than Men to Competitive Pressure.

Alex Krumer of the University of St. Gallen and his colleagues Danny Cohen-Zada, Mosi Rosenboim, from Ben-Gurion University, and Offer Moshe Shapir from NYU Shanghai analysed 8,200 games from Grand Slam tennis matches to derive that male players’ performance showed a larger drop in high-stakes games (relative to low-stakes games) than the female players’ performances did.

They choose tennis because it’s very easy to measure performance and competitive pressure. And looked at only first sets because asymmetry, fatigue and momentum play a role in the later sets.

Krumer’s paper “Choking Under Pressure and Gender: Evidence from Professional Tennis” explores how two professionals fair in real-life tennis contest with high monetary stakes in order to assess how men and women respond to competitive pressure. Recently, Krumer spoke at length to the Harvard Business Review about his work. We bring you six key takeaways from his conversation.

Grand Slams are the only tournaments that give the same prize money to men and women.

  1. Based on the performance of servers in every first set played at the 2010 Grand Slams the researchers found that the male player’s performance deteriorated more than the female’s when the game was at a critical juncture.
  2. Among women, there is hardly any difference between pre and post-tie performance. And even if the play deteriorated as pressure increased, the drop in performance was about 50% less, on average, than that of their male counterparts.
  3. The first set in women’s tennis matters more than men’s. Women play best of three sets, compared whereas men play best of five. The author’s say, “For a given score in the first set, women face greater pressure than men, because, unlike men, if they lose the first set they must win the next set in order to stay in the match”.
  4. Men are more affected by psychological momentum than women.
  5. Women respond more positively to increasing pressure in a single-sex environment than they do in a mixed-sex one. However, men perform better in the latter.
  6. The authors link it to the level of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body. The levels of cortisol increase more rapidly in men than in women and that those spikes can hurt performance.

Also Read: The Scientific Secret to Happiness