science and performance

Examining the science of peak performance

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • South Kensington Campus 
  • 2 term module worth 7.5 ECTS
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

Do you want to perform at your best? To understand how the greats in business, science, music, sport, medicine, theatre, and countless areas achieve what they achieve?

Whether you perform on the stage or the pitch, in the lab or the operating theatre, or for a panel of potential employers or funders, this course will give you the knowledge and tools to give the performance of a lifetime.

Researchers from the Centre for Performance Science (a partnership of Imperial College and the Royal College of Music) will lead you through the latest science examining what it means to perform at the highest level. Looking across disciplines, we will examine the psychology behind leadership, teamwork, memorization, motivation, and creativity. We will question whether 10,000 hours of practice is really all it takes to become an expert. We will explore how performance is assessed and valued, and how unconscious biases can affect our judges. We will confront the dreaded stage-fright, and how it can be managed. Most importantly, you will be given the opportunity to experience and reflect on your own performance, including a visit to the Royal College of Music’s Performance Simulator, as well as sessions with leading performers from music to magic and beyond. You may discover talents you never knew you had.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

  • Appreciate the value of interdisciplinary learning through engaging with relevant scholarship.
  • Appreciate complexity and diversity of the nature of knowledge.
  • Ability to select, interpret and critically analyse sources through class exercises and assessments which encourage transferable skills.
  • Tolerance of ambiguity by developing analytical interpretive skills that allow for decision making when information is incomplete, underdetermined or contradictory.
  • Develop and integrate individual work into an aggregated group presentation.
  • Confidence in ability to learn independently through opportunities for personal and intellectual development, assessed through a presentation, a reflective commentary and a research proposal.

Indicative core content

  • The road to excellence: Gifts, talents and the social psychological antecedents of expertise.
  • Leadership in action: the science of group performance, in groups, teams, and compeititon.
  • The performing brain: Neurological mechanisms that underpin perception, cognition and behaviour in performance.
  • The power of performance: The role of emotions, chills and thrills in colouring the perception and execution of performance.
  • Practising for performance. Effective preparation for performance and acquisition of stable performance skills, informed by interdisciplinary experiential learning.
  • Psychological skills for career development: Strategies for developing and sustaining high level performance skills and their implications for success, health and wellbeing.
  • Under pressure: The science behind the experience and management of stage-fright.
  • Creativity, originality and value in performance: Perspectives on creativity, how its measured and how the public responds to and evaluates creative products.
  • Assessing the X-factor: Defining the quality of performance and how to assess it.
  • Taking the stage: practical sessions led by expert performers where you can apply what you’ve learned to experience, test, and enhance your own performance.


  • Presentation (20 mins, plus 5 mins Q&A) on a topic from the reading and/or the seminars, with prior approval from the module leader (20%)
  • Reflective commentary (1,500 words) based on performances in the RCM’s performance simulator (40%)
  • Research proposal (1,500 words) based on reading, discussion and activities covered in the seminars (40%)

Key information

  • Requirements: Students are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 2-3 hours of private study or reading each week in addition to the assessment
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 course.  See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"Very enjoyable module, the interactivity makes it even better. "
"Great module, I really enjoyed it....the broad spread of topics covered in the course was very interesting. The relation of the psychology to other aspects of performance as well as music was a great addition to my degree."
"Fantastic lectures given by people who clearly have a passion for what they teach. Every week is a self-contained topic, which is great, with good recurring themes."