If you Google "most clutch athletes," you'll quickly find that most of the athletes on the "clutch" lists that are out there on the internet have one thing in common: They're almost all men. From Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to Joe Montana and Tom Brady, these lists might lead you to believe that women are severely lacking when it comes to the mythical "clutch gene." But surprise, guys! A new study indicates that that's not the case at all.
The study, which is called "Choking Under Pressure and Gender," was published by a group of researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel in October, and it involved taking a closer look at the outcomes of 4,127 women’s and 4,153 men’s Grand Slam tennis matches. Specifically, researchers took note of how athletes from both genders responded to being put into "a unique setting in which two professionals compete in a real-life contest with high monetary rewards." In a report posted on PsyPost, Dr. Danny Cohen-Zada of BGU's Department of Management said the goal of the study was to see "whether and how much each gender deteriorates or improves at crucial stages" of athletic competitions.
The formula the researchers used to determine how athletes performed under pressure is complicated to say the least—everything from the importance of matches to the rankings of individual players was considered, as you can see here—but the findings of the study indicated that men choked more often than women did when they were under pressure. "Our research showed that men consistently choke under competitive pressure, but with regard to women, the results are mixed," Dr. Mosi Rosenboim of BGU's Department of Management said. "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."
At the start of the study, Dr. Cohen-Zada wanted to try and "shed additional light on how men and women respond to competitive pressure and use its conclusions to better understand the labor market." It was a lofty goal, and unfortunately, it doesn't sound like there are necessarily real-world applications to what the researchers found. Dr. Alex Krumer, who worked alongside Dr. Cohen-Zada and Dr. Rosenboim, said there are too many other variables to take into account that don't exist in the sports world.
"For one thing, while we analyzed how female tennis players respond to pressure in a contest that is homogeneous with regard to gender, in the labor market women are required to respond to competitive pressure in a different setting where, for example, they compete with men," Dr. Krumer said. "In addition, tennis players may have different preferences and characteristics that may not necessarily make them a representative subject."
But Dr. Krumer also explained that future research may show that women handle pressure better than men outside of the sports spectrum, too. "The fact that we have uncovered such robust evidence that women can respond better than men to competitive pressure calls for further investigation in other real-life tournament settings," Dr. Krumer said.
Until then, it looks like the logical next step is to revise all of the "clutch" lists out there ASAP.