📺 RECORDING | Why We Choke with Sian Beilock

Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College, discusses how people can perform at their best under pressure.


Sian Beilock, the president of Barnard College and one of the world’s leading experts on the brain science behind “choking under pressure,” explores how we can perform our best even under stressful circumstances.


02:39 - Your research focuses primarily on the phenomenon of ‘choking’, and how that can negatively impact performance, especially at a time when it is imperative for one to do well and succeed! What brought about your personal interest in this phenomenon, and in the field of Cognitive Science? Are there any anecdotes you’d feel comfortable sharing?

04:27 - Where does this anxiety stem from, and what are the ways in which this cognitive strain impacts us?

06:55 - You’ve done a lot of research on the role of external influences on our anxiety responses, especially with regards to gender. What are some of the gender differences you’ve found in your research?

08:45 - How can we close this gender gap?

14:03 - How does your background in Cog Sci and Research help shape and guide your experiences as the President of Barnard College?

17:21 - Have you tested some of your theories in support programmes you've put in place for your students that stem from your research?

18:39 - We also know that you are a huge proponent for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion-related initiatives and programming - in your opinion, what are some of the biggest benefits of listening to differing perspectives, and respecting and learning from individuals that come from diverse backgrounds?

21:55 - Have you seen any changes in the way individuals have dealt (or not dealt!) with anxiety at different points of your career? For instance, how have factors such as social media, COVID, or even going back into the world post-lockdown, impacted the way in which someone handles anxiety?

24:55 - Some of your research also focuses on the links between socioeconomic status, anxiety and test scores, as well as the performance gaps that occur as a result of those interactions. Could you please talk a bit more about those performance gaps, and in which contexts they’re seen the most?

29:25 - Lastly, I’m sure many of us resonate with everything you’ve talked about today - pressure, choking, anxiety, so do you have any tips or advice for our scholars here today to help us prepare to be successful?

33:05 [Audience Question] - I was interested in this idea of 'multiple personas' that you mentioned. How do you keep these separate and how do you keep them from leading to the dissolution of your personal identity or loss of a sense of self?

    35:40 - [Audience Question] What do you suggest to do, when you have a pressure from your surrounding/society and etc. especially for girls from female rights’ deprived countries, how to handle that stress and succeed in achieving goals?

    37:46 - [Audience Question] How does perfectionism play into the pressure, did you do any research on that?

    39:18- [Audience Question] Do you have any advice for women in STEM fields, or in fields without current gender parity?

    43:53 - [Audience Question] When looking for a job, how do you choose an organisation that recognises that it's acceptable to be imperfect and still have learning to do, rather than be fully-formed?

    46:37 - [Audience Question] How does 'imposter syndrome' play into dealing with anxiety?

    50:40 - [Audience Question] What can we do to support other underrepresented students in our department experiencing imposter syndrome and increase retention within these departments?




    Sian Beilock, President, Barnard College

    Sian Beilock serves as the eighth President of Barnard College at Columbia University. One of the most selective academic institutions in the United States, Barnard College is devoted to empowering exceptional women to change the world and the way we think about it. 

    Prior to her appointment as President in 2017, Beilock served at the University of Chicago as Executive Vice Provost, an Officer of the University, and the Stella M. Rowley Professor of Psychology. 

    Beilock is one of the world’s leading experts on the brain science behind “choking under pressure” and the factors influencing all types of performance, from business to education to sports. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Choke and How The Body Knows Its Mind, which have been published in over a dozen languages. Her 2018 TED Talk has been viewed over 2.5 million times and her research has been featured globally in media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, CNN, the Washington Post and The New York Times. She has won eight major awards from national and international societies devoted to psychology, sport psychology, and education, including the 2017 Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences.

    President Beilock works with educators, business leaders, athletic coaches and those involved in public policy. She has given talks, workshops and advised some of the world’s leading companies and government organizations on how to cultivate optimal performance—especially when the stakes are highest.


    Yusra Shafi, Laidlaw Scholar, University of Toronto

    Yusra is a 2021 Laidlaw Scholar and rising senior at the University of Toronto, specializing in Psychology and minoring in Environment & Behaviour. Her research interests lie at the intersections of Developmental, Cognitive and Positive Psychology. Her Laidlaw research examined how current educational institutional structures can be reformed to become more ‘positive’ and supportive of student needs and mental health.

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