Imagining mistakes or what could go wrong can have a serious detrimental effect on performance for sportspeople or performers. Dwelling on the negative before a performance can disrupt their ability to perform actions that would normally be automatic.

The research by Aine MacNamara from the University of Limerick and Dave Collins from UK Athletics was presented at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference in Dublin on Thursday 3 April 2008.

Performers in dance and sport completed questionnaires and interviews to assess the nature of their negative images and the mechanisms by which they create them.

The findings suggest that our negative images are more vivid, detailed and less controllable than our positive images. Positive imagery is known to have a beneficial effect on performance but these results suggest negative images have an even more pronounced impact on how we perform.

Ms MacNamara said: "It would appear from results that vividness and control associated with negative images act as mechanisms through which images of poor performances significantly disrupt consequent performances.

Rumination and rehearsal of negative images may have serious performance implications given the destructive power of these negative images on performance".

British Psychological Society