Michigan Wolverines basketball fans will never forget The Timeout.

It happened during the 1993 NCAA men’s basketball championship game between the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina. Although that was 27 years ago, the shock waves still reverberate around some alumni circles, even today.

Earlier in the 1992-93 season, U-M’s Fab Five had romped over the North Carolina Tar Heels and were favored to win the national championship when the two teams squared off in the finals. With 11 seconds left in the game, Chris Webber found himself backed into a corner and called a timeout. The problem: Michigan didn’t have any timeouts remaining. Officials ruled it a technical foul, and the Tar Heels went on to clinch the game, 77 to 71.

Psychologists have a name for this lapse in performance when the stakes are high. They call it choking under pressure.

“I think choking under pressure is something we all can relate to at some point in our lives — whether it’s playing sports, taking final exams, making public speeches, or meeting someone for the first time,” says Taraz Lee, assistant professor of psychology. “These are situations where we have practiced hard and want to do our best, but we fall short of the mark because we are stressed out or feel intense pressure to perform well.”

Choking under pressure is not just a quirk of human nature, however.

Psychologists believe the culprits are underlying neural mechanisms related to cognitive control and learned-movement skills.

Over the past five years, Lee has studied how this tug-of-war inside the brain can drastically diminish people’s performance under pressure-cooker conditions, and what they can do to avoid these disappointing, and often embarrassing, meltdowns.

Read the full article at Michigan Today.