Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Arousal and sporting performance
How does emotional arousal affect sporting performance?
With sport psychology being an ever growing field, it is important that sports psychologists understand the effects of emotion and how they can influence an athletes'performance. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines arousal as "a state of excitement or energy expenditure linked to an emotion" (APA dictionary). Based off this we can see that arousal of emotions particularly in a sports setting can affect how an athlete performs in that situation.
APA definition of an emotion (APA dictionary): a complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioural, and physiological elements, by which an individual attempts to deal with a personally significant matter or event.
Most of the research conducted on arousal levels and sport revolves around anxiety,this is because it has been shown to have such an important role on the performance of athletes. For example, if a marathon runner is extremely anxious they may run too fast initially and expend all of their energy before they are able to complete a race, on the flip side, they may have no anxiety and are too relaxed so will run slower and have energy in reserve when they complete the race so could have run faster and achieved a better time.
So how do we know what is the best arousal level we should aim for, prior to or during a sporting context?
There has been a lot of research done in this area of sport and several theories have emerged. This chapter will focus on comparing three of the theories and how they affect sport performance:
- The inverted U hypothesis
- The zone of optimal function theory
- Drive reduction theory
- Catastrophe theory
This chapter will also compare different positive and negative emotions and how they can affect performance. These emotions will be:
Theories of arousal
The inverted U hypothesis
The inverted U is the oldest of these three theories, proposed in Yerkes & Dodson in (1908),the basis of the theory, is that optimal performance will occur when intermediate arousal levels of certain emotions are seen. Too little arousal and performance will not be sufficient and over arousal will result in declines of performance from optimum. In regards to the Inverted U hypothesis, most of the research to support the theory has revolved around anxiety and it's effects on performance.
A further component to the inverted U is that the optimal anxiety levels to task performance changes depending on the task characteristics of the sport (Raglin & Turner, 1993), if a task requires fine motor skills such as darts or archer, then anxiety levels are much lower than that of a gross motor task such as shot put or javelin . Although, anxiety levels should remain similar for different athletes performing the same task (Raglin & Turner, 1993).
Zone of optimal function theory
Originally proposed by Hanin (1978), the zone of optimal function theory indicates that optimal performance when an emotion, such as anxiety, is within a narrow range that is unique to each individual, for example, Roger Federer appears very calm during a final game in a competition and that's when he performs his best, whereas Rafael Nadal appears to have high arousal to perform optimally as shown through fist pumps and other actions during a final in a major competition.
Hanin (1986) has provided a lot of empirical evidence tothis theory by showing that a large percentage of athletes in his studies actually performed optimally at either low arousal levels of anxiety or high arousal levels of anxiety and not moderate levels . Furthermore, in the same study, Hanin (1986) also provided evidence that task characteristics did not actually influence optimal arousal levels as found in the inverted U .
Drive Reduction Theory
Drive reduction theory was orignallyproposed by Clark Hull (1943), the theory suggests that the more aroused an athlete is, the better their performance will be (Jones, 1995). A basis on this theory is that the athlete must be well learned in the skills that they are using, otherwise the theory proposes the opposite, that athletes performing less known skills will perform worse the more arousal they experience Jones, 1995).
Catastrophe theory was proposed by Hardy and Fazey (1987) as they were critical of the inverted U theory,their research arose because of the performance drop that could be seen by athletes as soon as arousal of anxiety peaked too high, causing a "catastrophic" decline in the performance (Hardy, 1990). The theory suggests that like the inverted U theory, moderate amounts of arousal will provide an athlete with the optimal performance, although once an athlete over arouses themself, there will be a sharp decline in performance (Hardy, 1990).
Emotions and how they affect performance
APA definition of anxiety (APA dictionary): An emotion characterised by apprehension and somatic symptoms of tension in which an individual anticipates impending danger, catastrophe, or misfortune. The body often mobilises itself to meet the perceived threat: muscles become tense, breathing is faster, and the heart beats more rapidly.
When research is undertaken regarding negative emotions, the focus is usually on anxiety. This is primarily due to the negative impact of anxiety on mental health. It is therefore unsurprising that anxiety is the most common emotion researched when it comes to impacts on sports personnel.Jones, 1995; Raglin & Hanin, 2000; Englert & Bertrams, 2012).
Furthermore, due to the unique stressors that athletes are exposed to (Jones, 1995; Hammond, Gialloreto, Kubas, Davis, 2013), it is understandable that initially researchers would aim to understand how anxiety has a negative effect on sporting performances. Consequently, based off meta analyses, research indicates that there is typically a negative relationship between anxiety and sporting performances (Jones, 1995; Craft, Magyar, Becker, & Fetlz, 2003; Woodman & Hardy, 2003). Although, as of more recently, it is understood that having little to no anxiety leading up to, and during a competition, can also be detrimental to an athlete's performance and results (McCarthy, 2011).
The most obvious and most understood way that anxiety can have an effect on sporting performance is through the physiological effects that it has upon a sports person's body. When they experiencesanxiety, it results in an arousal of the autonomic nervous system, which is an increase in heart rate, increased blood pressure, respiration, sweating etc. This response from the body is perceived as being a negative response and is known as state anxiety or stress (Landers, 2013). In perceiving this automatic response as maladaptive, it has been shown to further increase the elicited response (Landers, 1980). Once state anxiety or stress, the by-product of anxiety, has been over aroused it leads to a decrease in task performance (Landers, 2013) both short term and longer term if not appropriately addressed.
In a general sense, anxiety is an emotion that reflects apprehension towards goal attainment and coping (Jones, 1995). This can be further related to sports performances by realising that being overly anxious and experiencing an unknown or unanticipated situation within a sporting context can result in an uncertainty on how to cope and react in that situation.
Furthermore, if the unanticipated situation is not positively dealt with, there is a feeling of failure and incompetence,these feelings can lead to an increased anxiety by causing the athlete to think about the situation repetitively internally, or cause stress on the situation being a possibility again in the future (Jones, 1995). Thus, leading to even further decreases in performance, this can create a downward spiral in the performance of the athlete
Another way in which anxiety impairs performance is through its effects on an athlete's selective attention. Selective attention is the ability of a person to maintain focus on specific environmental stimulus and ignore other stimuli which could otherwise capture the person's attention (Schmeichel & Baumeister, 2010). Anxiety has the effect of impairing an individual's ability to focus on selective information and causes the individual to focus on threatening stimuli, whether that stimuli being internal, such as mistakes, error predictions or worrisome thoughts, or external, such as the audience, thus having less attention to focus at the task at hand leading to impaired performance (Vickers & Wilson, 2007; Bar-Haim, Lamy, Pergamin, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & van Ijzendoorn, 2007; Wilson, Vine, & Wood, 2009).
Anxiety is also associated with the discontinuation of sports activities (Gould, Feltz, Horn, & Weiss, 1982; Scanlan, Babkes, & Scanlan, 2005)
Anxiety has been linked to an increase in performance in several studies (Parfitt, Hardy, & Pates, 1995),this is by providing a feeling of motivation towards being suitably equipped to handle an upcoming situation. Examples might be: being anxious prior to a running race can provide motivation for the athlete to train more diligently and frequently, so they experience increases in performance, gain more confidence in their abilities and thus experience a reduction in anxiety. If no such anxiety was felt, the athlete may not train to their fullest extent, or push themselves to achieve more as they have little to no motivation to be better. It is frequently reported that even the most elite and successful athletes in most types of sport still experience a level of anxiety before important events. Therefore:
- Too little anxiety can lead to under performance due to lack of motivation
- Too much anxiety and lead to under performance due to its effects on the mind and body
APA definition of Anger (APA dictionary): An emotion characterised by tension and hostility arising from frustration, real or imagined injury by another, or perceived injustice.
Lane (2008) concluded that "success is associated with amongst other things, low scores of anger". This sentence reflects the majority of the research conducted regarding anger (Lazarus, 2000). This is a similar finding to anxiety, which has been negatively associated with positive performances, although as with anxiety there is also evidence that anger can be used as an emotional tool to enhance performances in some ways (Lazarus, 2000), particularly contact sports such as boxing, wrestling, ice hockey and rugby football.
Anger has always been an emotion that has been linked with aggression and violence When experienced by an athlete engaged in a non-contact sport this can lead to negative performances (Isberg, 2000). An excellent example of this is Zenedine Zidane, considered one of the best soccer players in the world, who was described as feeling intensely angry when he headbutted his opponent during the final of the World Cup in 2006 (Kerr, 2008). This action resulted in him receiving a red card reducing his team down to 10 men causing Italy to win the game and thus the World Cup. Another such example from a different sport is the ice hockey player Bertuzzi. He was described as feeling intense anger during a crucial game (Kerr, 2008), the same as Zidane, he punched another player in the back of the head when his team had essentially already lost the game, this extreme action left his opponent unconscious and requiring medical help, leading Bertuzzi to be ejected from the game. Both of these examples reflect that anger when too aroused can cause even the most elite of athletes to "lose their cool" and have a very negative consequence on their performance.
Boxing is probably the best example of the effects that anger has on sporting performance, considering that boxing is already a violent and aggressive sport, it would not be too far-fetched to assume that anger would have an integral association with the sport. This has been found to be the opposite,Smit and Louw (2011) interviewed several boxers about the psychological aspects of boxing, their findings revealed that the boxers all evaluated success in the ring with the ability to be able to control their anger and aggression. Being unable to control their anger would lead to a negative performance and most likely a loss in the sport.
Although with anger being an accepted emotion in almost every sport, it has from time to time been encouraged and elicited to improve athletic performance (Brunelle, Janelle, & Tennant, 1999, pg. 283).
Lane & Terry (2000), Beedie, Terry, & Lane. (2000) performed a study examining the positive aspects of anger within sport,they concluded that anger can be effectively channelled externally towards the source of frustration, and if controlled, can be associated with enhanced performance.
Consequently, we can conclude that if arousal levels are too high for anger it will have a negative effect on sporting performance, but if controlled and channelled, can be used to enhance sporting performance positively.
APA definition for excitement (APA dictionary): An emotional state marked by enthusiasm, eagerness or anticipation, and general arousal.
Due to excitement being seen as generally a positive result from a positive performance. Therefore, the research conducted into excitement tends to have been minimal (Jones, 2005). Although there is evidence that excitement has been linked to increased motivation and commitment by athletes, which are essential psychological attributes for successful performances. With that being said, it has been also closely been linked with anxiety. Burton & Naylor (1997) reported that excitement is similar to anxiety but was reported by individuals to be a high intensity positive feeling rather than a negative one, which is also often accompanied by physical symptoms such as feeling sick. Excitement is experienced in very similar situations and ways as anxiety but usually minus the physical symptoms, except it is the result of coping and attaining goals in a sporting performance.
Excitement is utilised by athletes as mainly a motivation tool to help them train harder and concentrate more effectively at the task at hand (Robazza, Bortoli, & Nougier, 2002; Gould & Maynard, 2009)
Physiological arousal is another effect of excitement, similar to anxiety. It leads to increases in the autonomic nervous system, the perception of this increase though, is affected by the realisation that it is attributed to a positive emotion (Kerr, 1997). The effects of which have been related to positive increases in performance by channelling this increased arousal to the task at hand (Lane & Terry, 2000).
Furthermore, there is evidence that excitement has been found to decrease performance in some respects due to over arousal and loss of concentration (McCarthy, 2011). This has been proven by (McCarthy, 2011) causing a loss in focus on the prescribed task and attention to be automatically focused elsewhere, again this is very similar to the effects that anxiety has on selective attention. Therefore, excitement can be:
- Used mainly as motivation for the sporting event
- Specifically, can cause athletes to be better prepared prior to the event causing an increased performance during the event.
- Over excitement can cause athletes to lose focus leading to a lower level of performance than they are capable of.
APA definition for happiness (APA dictionary): An emotion of joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being.
While happiness is again a poorly researched area of emotion in regard to sporting performance (Jackson, 2000; Lazarus, 2000), it is an emotion which has been mostly linked with increases in performance (Lane & Lane, 2008). Happiness is an emotion that tends to be linked with psychological well-being, as well as increased attention (McCarthy, 2011), Psychological well-being has also received much more attention from researchers recently due to the mental health benefits that it provides in day to day life.
These findings are easily transferable to a sporting context as happy athletes are much more likely to attend training sessions, have positive effects on upcoming competitive events, increased resilience, self-esteem, self-belief, self-control and decision making abilities., Athletes are able to use all of these positive feelings to increase their performance (Tugade, Fredrickson, & Feldman-Barrett, 2004).
There have been a few studies conducted (McCarthy, 2011) that have indicated that an over arousal of happiness can lead to decreased performance though. An example of this is during a sporting performance, such as a rugby game, a player once scoring a try will be extremely happy, and as their team is winning by a large margin may already have experienced feelings of satisfaction leading to a decrease in effort and attention (McCarthy, 2011). This could then lead to loss of concentration and mistakes being made by the player and other team mates. This over arousedcaused by happiness, can result in a "comeback" by the other team and a loss. There is evidence of this during important cup finals, for example the annual English soccer cup final, where on many occasions’ goals are scored in the closing minutes leading to either a win by the team that was losing or the game going to extra time and penalty shoot outs. Therefore, happiness can:
- Be found to increase motivation and focus during sport more so than negative emotions such as anger,
- Be concluded that a general well being of happiness is optimal for sustaining peak mental and physical performance
All four of the proposed theories have been critically reviewed and while some have claims against them, they all have a plethora of research that supports the original hypotheses. It should be noted however, that the Hanin's Zone of Optimal Performance seems to be the most widely accepted due the the nature of individuals experiencing and reacting to each of the emotions differently. Furthermore, the arousal levels of each emotion can be different from person to person, so it is recommended that athletes and people participating in sport grasp an understanding of their own optimal levels for optimal sports performance.
There is an influx in research done more recently that supports the evidence that positive emotions are more likely to improve performance in the general population, and negative emotions are more likely to decrease performance.
- Anxiety (Wikipedia)
- Anxiety neurobiology (Book chapter, 2018)
- Arousal (Wikipedia)
- Drive theory (Wikipedia)
- Zone of optimal functioning (Wikipedia)
- Mindfulness and performance lifting (Book chapter, 2018)
- Mindfulness and sporting performance (Book chapter, 2018)
Bar-Haim, Y., Lamy, D., Pergamin, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & Ijzendoorn, M. H. (2007). Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and nonanxious individuals: A meta-analytic study. Psychological Bulletin,133, 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.1
Beedie, C. J., Terry, P. C., & Lane, A. M. (2000). The profile of mood states and athletic performance: Two meta-analyses. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,12, 49-68. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200008404213
Brunelle, J. P., Janelle, C. M., & Tennant, L. K. (1999). Controlling competitive anger among male soccer players. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,11, 283-297. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413209908404205
Burton, D., & Naylor, S. (1997). Is anxiety really facilitative? reaction to the myth that cognitive anxiety always impairs sport performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,9, 295-302. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413209708406488
Craft, L. L., Magyar, T. M., Becker, B. J., & Feltz, D. L. (2003). The Relationship between the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 and Sport Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology,25, 44-65. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.25.1.44
Englert, C., & Bertrams, A. (2012). Anxiety, Ego depletion, and Sports Performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology,34, 580-599. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.34.5.580
Gould, D., Feltz, D., Horn, T., & Weiss, M. R. (1982). Reasons for attrition in competitive youth swimming. Journal of Sport Behavior, 5(3), 155-165.
Hammond, T., Gialloreto, C., Kubas, H., & Davis, H. (. (2013). The prevalence of failure-based depression among elite athletes. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine,23, 273-277. https://doi.org/10.1097/jsm.0b013e318287b870
Hanin, Y. (1978) A study of anxiety in sports. In W.F. Straub (Ed.), Sport Psychology: An analysis of athlete behaviour. (pp. 236 - 249).Movement Publications: Ithaca, NY.
Hanin, Y.L. (1986). The state-trait anxiety research on sports in the USSR. In: C.D. Spielberger and R. Diaz-Guerrero (Eds.) Cross-cultural Anxiety. (Vol.3, pp.45- 64). Washington: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.
Hardy, L. & Fazey, J. (1987). The Inverted-U Hypothesis: A Catastrophe For Sport Psychology? Paper Presented at the Annual Conference of the North American Society For the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity. Vancouver. June.
Hardy, L. (1990). A catastrophe model of performance in sport. In J. G. Jones & L. Hardy (Eds.), Wiley series in human performance and cognition. Stress and performance in sport (pp. 81-106). Oxford, England: John Wiley & Sons.
Harmison, R. J. (2011). Peak performance in sport: Identifying ideal performance states and developing athletes psychological skills. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology,1, 3-18. https://doi.org/10.1037/2157-3905.1.s.3
Hull, C. L. (1943). Principles of Behavior. New York: Appleton-Century.
Jackson, S.A. (2000). Joy, fun, and flow state in sport. In Y.L. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport (pp. 135-155). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Jokela, M., & Hanin, Y. L. (1999). Does the individual zones of optimal functioning model discriminate between successful and less successful athletes? A meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences,17, 873-887. https://doi.org/10.1080/026404199365434
Jones, G. (1995). More than just a game: Research developments and issues in competitive anxiety in sport. British Journal of Psychology,86, 449-478. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8295.1995.tb02565.x
Jones, M. V. (2003). Controlling Emotions in Sport. The Sport Psychologist,17, 471-486. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.17.4.471
Jones, M. V., Lane, A. M., Bray, S. R., Uphill, M., & Catlin, J. (2005). Sport emotion questionnaire. PsycTESTS Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/t68722-000
Kamata, A., Tenenbaum, G., & Hanin, Y. L. (2002). Individual zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF): A probabilistic estimation. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology,24, 189-208. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.24.2.189
Kerr, J. H. (2008). A critique of the development of the competitive aggressiveness and anger scale. Psychology of Sport and Exercise,9, 721-728. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.01.001
Landers, D. M. (1980). The arousal-performance relationship revisited. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport,51, 77-90. https://doi.org/10.1080/02701367.1980.10609276
Lane, A. M., & Terry, P. C. (2000). The nature of mood: Development of a conceptual model with a focus on depression. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,12, 16-33. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200008404211
Lane, A. M., & Lane, R. J. (2008). Profiling optimal performance: A case study of peak performance in foreign exchange dealing and boxing environments. International Journal of Psychology, 43, 148.
Lazarus, R. S. (2000). How emotions influence performance in competitive sports. The Sport Psychologist,14, 229-252. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.14.3.229
Mccarthy, P. J. (2011). Positive emotion in sport performance: Current status and future directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology,4, 50-69. https://doi.org/10.1080/1750984x.2011.560955
Parfitt, G., Hardy, L., & Pates, J. (1995). Somatic anxiety and physiological arousal: Their effects upon a high anaerobic, low memory demand task. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 26, 196-213.
Prapavessis, H., & Grove, J. R. (1991). Precompetitive emotions and shooting performance: The mental health and zone of optimal function models. The Sport Psychologist,5, 223-234. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.5.3.223
Raglin, J.S., & Hanin, Y.L. (2000). Competitive anxiety. In Y.L. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport (pp. 39-63). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Raglin, J. S., & Turner, P. E. (1993). Anxiety and performance in track and field athletes: A comparison of the inverted-U hypothesis with zone of optimal function theory. Personality and Individual Differences,14, 163-171. https://doi.org/10.1016/0191-8869(93)90186-7
Rathschlag, M., & Memmert, D. (2013). The influence of self-generated emotions on physical performance: An investigation of happiness, anger, anxiety, and sadness. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology,35, 197-210. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.35.2.197
Robazza, C., Bortoli, L., & Nougier, V. (2002). Monitoring of precompetition affect in elite Italian archers during the World Championships. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 33(1), 72-97.
Scanlan, T. K., Babkes, M. L., & Scanlan, L. A. (2005). Participation in sport: A developmental glimpse at emotion. In J. L. Mahoney, R. W. Larson, & J. S. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development: Extracurricular activities, after-school and community programs (pp. 275-309). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Schmeichel, B.J., & Baumeister, R.F. (2010). Effortful attention control. In B. Bruya (Ed.),Effortless attention: A new perspective in the cognitive science of attention and action'(pp. 29–49). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Smit, C., & Louw, J. (2011). The hurt business: Psychological aspects of boxing. South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation,33. https://doi.org/10.4314/sajrs.v33i2.69696
Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L., & Barrett, L. F. (2004). Psychological resilience and positive emotional granularity: Examining the benefits of positive emotions on coping and health. Journal of Personality,72, 1161-1190. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2004.00294.x
Vickers, J.N., & Williams, A.M. (2007). Performing under pressure: The effects of physiological arousal, cognitive anxiety, and gaze control in biathlon. Journal of Motor Behavior, 39, 381–394. PubMed https://doi.org/10.3200/JMBR.39.5.381-394
Wilson, M.R., Wood, G., & Vine, S.J. (2009b). Anxiety, attentional control, and performance impairment in penalty kicks. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 31, 761–775. PubMed
Woodman, T., & Hardy, L. (2003). The relative impact of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence upon sport performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences,21, 443-457. https://doi.org/10.1080/0264041031000101809
Woodman, T., Davis, P. A., Hardy, L., Callow, N., Glasscock, I., & Yuill-Proctor, J. (2009). Emotions and sport performance: An exploration of happiness, hope, and anger. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology,31, 169-188. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.31.2.169
Yerkes, R. M. & Dodson, J. D. (1908). The Relation of Strength of Stimulus to Rapidity of Habit Formation. Journal of Comparative and Neurological Psychology, 18, 459-482.
- American Psychological Association dictionary
- Forbes news article on tennis champions and being relaxed (Forbes.com)
- List of theories relating to arousal (Pyschologycampus.com)
- TED Talk: Inside the mind of champion athletes (Martin Hagger, TED talk