Perceptual-Cognitive Skill

Anxiety’s effect on visual gaze (and performance)

Ample research has explored the effects of anxiety on sports performance. Here we discuss a study that specifically examined the effect of anxiety on visual gaze – specifically “quiet eye”.

Quiet eye refers to the length of the final fixation prior to initiating movement. Typically, longer fixations on the target are a characteristic of successful performance. For instance, when shooting a basketball, quiet eye refers to the amount of time fixating on the ring prior to executing the skill.

The study design

Wilson & colleagues asked participants to perform a basketball free throw shot in two conditions – a low threat condition (aimed to minimise anxiety) and a high threat condition (aimed to increase anxiety). The tactics employed in the high threat condition to raise anxiety included:

  • explaining that performance would be compared with teammates
  • offering financial incentives
  • providing noncontingent feedback, whereby participants were informed that they were performing more poorly compared to others than they really were

The results

Results highlighted that increases in anxiety resulted in shorter quiet eye durations. Significantly, this also led to poorer performance, as evidenced by few successful shots.


The quiet eye period appears to be a critical factor influencing motor performance during aiming tasks (e.g., basketball shooting, golf putting, etc..), particularly when anxiety is heightened. Training quiet eye therefore appears to be a fruitful avenue for improving motor performance (e.g., see work by Greg Wood).


Wilson, M. R., Vine, S. J., & Wood, G. (2009). The influence of anxiety on visual attentional control in basketball free throw shooting. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 31, 152-168.


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