Psychology in the News

October 20, 2012

Stage Fright

Filed under: anxiety, emotions, music — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 8:31 am

by Ashley Powell

Stage Fright by The BandImagine walking out onto a stage in front of 10,000 people waiting to hear you perform. While the sight of a large audience thrills and motivates many performing artists, this is not the case for all stars. The truth is that even some famous musicians who have amassed great fan support continue to suffer from performance anxiety, more commonly known as stage fright. This form of anxiety results in an increased state of physiological arousal, which actually impedes performance. The talented singer-songwriter Carly Simon struggled with performance anxiety for many years of her career, so much so that she would poke her hands with safety pins to distract herself. Before one performance, Simon had her  band’s entire horn section spank her as she awaited the rise of the curtain.

Of course, all artists get nervous sometimes.  Italian tenor Enrico Caruso said that artists who claim to never get nervous are not artists, or else they are liars or fools.   We have probably all suffered from this type of anxiety at some point in our lives while performing in front of people—whether it be singing, giving a presentation, or playing in an athletic competition. However, this “nervous energy” (which often translates into a positive means of motivation) differs from performance anxiety.

So what exactly is performance anxiety? And does is fade away with increased level of talent? Performance anxiety is a psychological disorder in which an individual’s performance skills are impaired through his or her resistance and apprehension in the face of a public crowd. It has nothing to do with one’s musical capacity or preparation time. According to the Yerkes-Dodson curve (Yerkes & Dodson, 1908), moderate levels of arousal improve performance, but high levels of arousal impair performance.   In the face of this increased state of arousal, well beyond the ideal point of the Yerkes-Dodson curve, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, mobilizing the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to a threat (in this case, a crowd). Behavioral manifestations include trembling, muscle tension, and changes in posture. When epinephrine is released, heart rate increases and blood vessels constrict. As a result, blood pressure increases, causing overheating and sweating. In the case of singers, vocal chords tighten, which makes one’s voice sound shaky.

What causes this stage fright?  Sinden (1999) conducted a study on 138 student musicians at the university level using Frost’s Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (Frost et al., 1990). Sinden found a strong correlation between perfectionism and performance anxiety. Many studies have been done since then, contributing to the growing evidence that many socially anxious people may be perfectionists (Alden, Ryder, & Mellings, 2002). Setting such high performance standards and concerning oneself with mistakes only contributes to further self-criticism and performance anxiety.

So, if you ever wonder if the stars still get stage fright, the answer is that some do.  Whether or not Carly Simon identifies as a perfectionist, she certainly exemplifies a star who does not like to shine in the limelight (rather, under the stage lights). While most stars live for the crowds, there are those who dread them despite being talented. But if you do suffer from performance anxiety, you can always try poking your hands with safety pins.


Enright, P. (2007, September 12).  Even stars get stage fright.  In Retrieved April 10, 2012. from

Kenny, D. T. (2011). The psychology of music performance anxiety. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia (n.d.). Carly Simon.   In Wikipedia. Retrieved 10 April, 2012, from

Wikipedia (n.d.). Enrico Caruso.   In Wikipedia. Retrieved 10 April, 2012, from

Yerkes, R.M., & Dodson, J.D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18, 459-82.

Yoshie, M., Kudo, K., Murakoshi, T., & Ohtsuki, T. (2009). Music performance anxiety in skilled pianists: Effects of social-evaluative performance situation on subjective, autonomic, and electromyographic reactions. Experimental Brain Research, 199(2), 117-26. doi:10.1007/s00221-009-1979-y

April 2, 2010

Anxiety, depression and grades

Filed under: anxiety, depression — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 1:32 pm

by 105 student

Skinner Hall by Josh de Leeuw

Skinner Hall by Josh de Leeuw

Have anxiety and depression affected your college experience? Of course, most of us have felt a tinge of ennui on a cloudy winter day, moped after a breakup, or cried and pulled out a few hairs studying for finals. But the effects of depression and anxiety disorders can be a serious detriment to college performance.

In the year 2000, 76% of college students reportedly felt “overwhelmed” and 22% were unable to function as a result of their depression (American College Health Association, 2001). Major depressive disorder is characterized by extremely low moods, a sense of worthlessness and lack of interest or enjoyment in typically pleasurable or rewarding activities (Myers, 2006).

Recent studies connecting decreased cravings for pleasure to loss of interest or pleasure in rewarding activities could help to explain poor academic performance of depressed college students. Depressed college students may be less likely to work for grade-oriented rewards.


September 19, 2009

OK, so you haven’t been sleeping much. How bad could that be?

Filed under: anxiety, depression, health, sleep — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 6:27 am

By Leksi Kolanko

Dr. Insomnias, #2 by Thomas Hawk

Dr. Insomnia's, #2 by Thomas Hawk

We all suffer an occasional restless night of sleep here and there, whether it is the result of stressful events occurring in our lives, jetlag, pain due to a physical injury, or simply the overuse of caffeine.  For some people, however, insomnia, a sleep disorder in which an individual has recurring problems in falling or staying asleep, can become chronic.  Multiple studies have been conducted showing a strong relationship between insomnia, depression, and anxiety.  For instance, a longitudinal study conducted by Dag Neckelmann of Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, surveyed 25,130 adults.  The results of the general health surveys showed that the group of participants with chronic insomnia had increased depression and anxiety, as compared to the group without chronic insomnia.  Another study, carried out by Daniel Taylor, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton, and his colleagues, sampled 722 adults of age 20 to 89.  This cross-sectional and retrospective study reported that people with insomnia were 10 times more likely to have clinically significant depression and 17 times more likely to have clinically significant anxiety. (more…)

March 26, 2009

Healing the brain through music

Filed under: brain damage, brain wiring, health, music — Tags: , , , , , , , — intro2psych @ 7:36 am

By  Jennifer Beckerman

Photo by foreversouls

Photo by foreversouls

Over the years, researchers have studied the various effects of music on human health, intelligence, and well-being, but more recently, researchers came to fascinating conclusions regarding music’s medicinal qualities.  Music’s various positive benefits reach diverse groups of people: adolescents involved with music perform better in school , music increases exercise endurance by up to 15%, music lowers stress levels, anxiety, and depression in pregnant women, and may be an inexpensive and enjoyable way to facilitate recovery in stroke patients -imagine that!

In order to fully comprehend music’s influence on stroke recovery, we must consider the mechanics.  A stroke occurs when blood supply to part of the brain is blocked, which prevents the admittance of oxygen and glucose.  Without oxygen, brain cells die.  This blockage results most commonly from the blockage of a small artery within the brain itself, but there are several other mechanisms for a stroke as well.  Some factors that lead to strokes and artery blockage include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking.    Strokes are unexpected and dangerous incidences that remain the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer. A Harvard Imaging technique reveals increased brain activity when people play or listen to music because more blood and oxygen flow to the brain, healing brain damage.


April 21, 2008

Why I am afraid of the hospital

Filed under: anxiety, health — Tags: , , , , , — intro2psych @ 9:06 am

by 105 student

Yesterday, after being told by health services that I would have to go to the emergency room due to an allergic reaction, I immediately started to get nervous and cry and I started to have a panic attack. I could see that my heart rate was drastically increasing because I was hooked up to a monitor at the time. As someone who suffers from Panic Disorder, having panic attacks are not that uncommon. However, due to the fact that I take klonopin to prevent panic attacks, I was surprised by how quickly the onset of my panic attack was at the mere mention of a hospital. It was as though the idea of a hospital was a trigger.

Once I got home, I decided to research what had caused my panic attack. It turns out that there is a specific phobia called Nosocomephobia which is a fear of hospitals. It is a specific phobia, which is particularly difficult given that one would already be upset about their illness or injury which is causing them to go to the hospital in the first place. Nosocomephobia can induce panic attacks which, include symptoms such as shortness of breath, a pounding heart, dizziness, nausea, a feeling of being disconnected from the world and from oneself, and generally a dread that one is losing control and is going to die. [For more about panic attacks, see the post Be afraid, be very afraid.]

While researching I came across the point that most likely, the fear of hospitals is actually a protective mechanism for the individual because of some traumatic event in ones past that involved a hospital. I then realized that, ironically, the last time I had been hospitalized was for my most intense panic attack! At that time, I had no idea what was wrong with me and no doctor had even entertained the idea that what I had was panic disorder. They had assumed that I was feeling these symptoms because of low blood sugar and stress. Clearly, not knowing what was going on with me caused even more anxiety, as one of the main problems for people who suffer from panic disorder is a general need to feel in control, though not necessarily to actually be in control.

I’ve concluded that the panic attack I experienced yesterday was most likely due to nosocomephobia. I associate hospitals with panic attacks, and for people with panic disorder, it is quite often the fear of having a panic attack that will actually cause a panic attack. My fear of hospitals, while it may seem counterproductive, is actually my body trying to avoid a negative situation. It is as if it is saying, “I’ll attach a fear to hospitals in order to steer clear of bad situations and to be safe.”

For me, I believe that I can overcome my fear of hospitals by continuing to take klonopin and to address this issue with my psychiatrist. Many people are prescribed benzodiazepines such as klonopin for their specific phobias. However, there is a variety of other treatment options for those who suffer from nosocomephobia. One such treatment is Systematic Desensitization. Patients are desensitized to their specific fear through the use of virtual reality or imagery exercises. Another treatment is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This also involves a gradual desensitization to one’s fear. In this type of therapy, the patient learns to understand his or her pattern of negative thoughts, and ways to break this cycle. A third option is Hypnotherapy. Hynotherapy tries to reprogram the parts of your subconscious associated with your fear. Hypnotherapy is part of study or practice known as Neuro-Linguistic Practice, or NLP. It is the study of how we create our reality, and holds the viewpoint that a phobia is the result of malfunctioning “programs” that you have created in your brain. NLP finds and “re-programs” these constructs. Through hypnotherapy and NLP, Nosocomephobia can often be greatly reduced or even eliminated.

November 25, 2007

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Filed under: anxiety, drugs — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 12:23 pm

by Isabel Vondermuhll

New technologies are enabling researchers and scientists to learn more about the biological, psychological, and social factors that influence the development of an anxiety disorder. With a better understanding of underlying causes, better treatment and even prevention measures will be possible. Panic disorders are more than just being nervous for a test. When a person has a panic attack, they can literally think they are dying, even though they know that their thoughts are irrational. Panic attacks are so terrifying that mostly, people with panic disorder are constantly panicking not because they are having panic attacks, but because they live in a state of fear of an impending panic attack. In between panic attacks, the person worries excessively about when and where then next attack may occur. Panic attacks are includes symptoms such as:

• Pounding heart
• Chest pain
• Sweating
• Trembling or shaking
• Sensation of choking
• Nausea or abdominal pain
• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• Feeling unreal or disconnected from oneself
• Fear of losing control
• Fear of “going crazy” or dying
• Numbness
• Chills or hot flashes
• Physical symptoms that mimic a heart attack

book cover
Luckily, scientists have come up with a wide array of very effective medicines to help those with panic disorder cope with these symptoms. The class of drugs which are most helpful for panic disorder are called Benzodiazepines. “Benzos,” for short, are a kind of tranquilizers with hypnotic, anticonvulsant, sedative, muscle relaxant and amnesic properties. The most common benzodiazepines are Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan. They differ in how quickly they come into full effect and how long they last.

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 47 other followers