Ironic or Overcompensation Effects of Motor Behaviour: An Examination of a Tennis Serving Task Under Pressure

Görgülü R.

BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES, vol.9, no.2, 2019 (SSCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 9 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Doi Number: 10.3390/bs9020021
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Keywords: performance, anxiety, instruction, ironic error, overcompensation, mental control, TEST ANXIETY, SKILLED PERFORMANCE
  • Bursa Uludag University Affiliated: Yes


With specific regard to the hypothesized effects of anxiety on performance in motor behaviour, the rival predictions emanating from the Wegner's "ironic processes theory" and the "implicit overcompensation hypothesis" are largely indiscriminate. Specifically, Wegner's theory predicts that self-instructions not to perform in a certain manner would lead to the very behaviour the individual seeks to avoid under pressure. On the other hand, the implicit overcompensation hypothesis predicts that avoidant instructions would produce the opposite outcome to that intended by the performer under pressure. The present novel study directly compared these predictions using a tennis serving task under manipulated instructions. The sample comprised 32 (20 men, 12 women; M-age = 20.81, SD = 2.20) experienced tennis players who performed a tennis serving task. Participants' levels of cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety and self-confidence were measured by using Mental Readiness Form-3. A 2 (anxiety: low, high) x 3 (serving zone: target zone, non-target ironic error zone, non-target non-ironic error zone) repeated measures of ANOVA revealed a significant anxiety x serving zone interaction F(2, 62) = 32.27, p < 0.001 which provides specific support for the Wegner's ironic processes of mental control theory rather than implicit overcompensation hypothesis. More specifically, Bonferroni-corrected follow-up paired samples t-tests revealed that when instructed not to serve in a specific direction, anxious performers did so a significantly greater number of times (t(31) = -5.15, p < 0.001). The present research demonstrates that ironic performance errors are a meaningful and robust potential concern for performers who are required to perform under pressure.