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The Impact of Precaution and Practice on the Performance of a Risky Motor Task

Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat-Aviv 69978, Israel
Departments of Psychology and Anthropology, Washington University, St Louis, MO 63130, USA
Human Performance Wing, US Air Force Research Laboratory, WPAFB, OH 45433, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Behav. Sci. 2013, 3(3), 316-329;
Received: 15 April 2013 / Revised: 14 June 2013 / Accepted: 18 June 2013 / Published: 26 June 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Functional Perspectives on Emotion, Behavior, and Cognition)
PDF [350 KB, uploaded 2 July 2013]


The association between threat perception and motor execution, mediated by evolved precaution systems, often results in ritual-like behavior, including many idiosyncratic acts that seem irrelevant to the task at hand. This study tested the hypothesis that threat-detection during performance of a risky motor task would result in idiosyncratic activity that is not necessary for task completion. We asked biology students to follow a particular set of instructions in mixing three solutions labeled “bio-hazardous” and then repeat this operation with “non-hazardous” substances (or vice versa). We observed a longer duration of the overall performance, a greater repertoire of acts, longer maximal act duration, and longer mean duration of acts in the “risky” task when it was performed before the “non-risky” task. Some, but not all, of these differences were eliminated when a “non-risky” task preceded the “risky” one. The increased performance of idiosyncratic unnecessary activity is in accordance with the working hypothesis of the present study: ritualized idiosyncratic activities are performed in response to a real or illusionary threat, as a means to alleviate anxiety. View Full-Text
Keywords: emotion; affect; anxiety; precaution; cognition; behavior emotion; affect; anxiety; precaution; cognition; behavior

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Keren, H.; Boyer, P.; Mort, J.; Eilam, D. The Impact of Precaution and Practice on the Performance of a Risky Motor Task. Behav. Sci. 2013, 3, 316-329.

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