Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The concept of performance pressure has been prevalent in management research for decades. Ranging from the impact of time constraints on productivity to the influence of social evaluation on the performance of individuals and teams, pressure is a ubiquitous phenomenon that has generated significant interest in the social sciences. Despite its substantive footprint within management research, there is a lack of agreement among scholars regarding what performance pressure actually is (i.e., an internal or external phenomenon). Further, research on the subject has proliferated without a coherent theoretical understanding of why and how performance pressure arises as well as why and how it affects behavior in the workplace. These theoretical inadequacies limit our ability to more fully understand a pervasive phenomenon that affects the productivity and well-being of people across work domains. Consequently, in this dissertation, I draw from theories of motivation and cognition to articulate a theory of performance pressure that contends that the interaction between goal importance and outcome uncertainty explains why and how this pressure arises, whereby goal importance is determined by the perceived capacity of the goal to satisfy or frustrate core psychological needs. Aligned with this conceptualization, I define performance pressure as a perceived tension reflecting an increase in the importance and/or uncertainty of goal accomplishment. As a conceptual connecting point between the emergence and behavioral impact of performance pressure, I apply the core principles of attentional control theory to explain why and how this pressure affects behavior through the cognitive processes induced by the anxiety of uncertainty surrounding important goal accomplishment. To assess the legitimacy of my theoretical expectations regarding the nature and emergence of the phenomenon, I utilize qualitative interview data to study the lived experience of performance pressure by professionals across a range of vocations – fire services, police services, nursing, administration, and physical training. Through this investigation, the data broadly support my theoretical expectations regarding the nature and emergence of performance pressure and provides a foundation off which future pressure research may be based.



Committee Chair

Beus, Jeremy