What can be learned from 8,280 Grand Slam tennis games? A great deal about performance and cracking under pressure.
It's a high-pressure environment. There's a lot at stake, and the players stand to win millions. This fall Angelique Kerber, the winner of the US Open Tennis Championships, took home a $3.5 million check for her first-place victory.
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev felt Grand Slam Tennis tournaments could offer insight into how gender affects mental toughness when under pressure. They examined data from tournaments from the past six years to gauge whether and how much each gender deteriorated or improved at crucial stages in the game. They found the male athletes were overwhelmingly more likely to choke than the female athletes.
"Our research showed that men consistently choke under competitive pressure, but with regard to women the results are mixed," says Dr. Mosi Rosenboim of BGU's Department of Management. "However, even if women show a drop in performance in the more crucial stages of the match, it is still about 50 percent less than that of men."
The researchers pointed to cortisol as one of the possible reasons. Other sports-related studies have shown higher cortisol levels can affect golf swings and tennis serves. Cortisol levels climb more quickly in men than women during competition.
The purpose of this study was to better understand how men and women responded to competitive pressure in similar situations -- specifically at work. While a high-pressure tennis match doesn't necessarily represent how well men and women would perform in high-pressure work environments, there are still helpful conclusions to be made. For example, the results can shed new light on one theory as to why why men make more money than women. "Our findings do not support the existing hypothesis that men earn more than women in similar jobs because they respond better than women to pressure," Dr. Danny Cohen-Zada said.