Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Zone of optimal functioning hypothesis

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Zone of optimal functioning hypothesis:
What is the ZOFH and how can it be applied?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Table Tennis Athlete at the Table Tennis Championships 2019 at optimal performance.

In 1908 scientists Yerkes and Dodson created the theory known as the "Inverted U Hypothesis" (Yerkes & Dodson, 1908). This was the psychological foundation of the anxiety-athletic relationship known as the Yerkes-Dodson law. Over two decades past when, in 1927 Sigmund Freud identified the minimal psychoanalitics[spelling?] in drive and motivation research. As time past in 1943, Spence and Hull created what is to this day referred to as Drive Theory, the theory aiming to identify and describe the instinctual needs and behaviours behind behaviour (Hanin, 2000).

It was seventy years later when research into the emotion-performance relationship began with the work of Yuri Hanin in 1980 (Krane, 1993). He believed that there was an 'optimal balance' for each individual's state-trait anxiety and peak athletic performance (Woodman, Albinson & Hardy, 1997). He developed an idiographic model based on the subjective emotions of the individual and their performance outcome soon to be known as the Zone of Optimal Functioning Hypothesis (ZOFH) (Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015). The ZOFH or IZOF acronym was later introduced by Hanin in 1995. Hanin proposed five core dimensions (form, content, intensity, time, and context) which carried over into later studies (Hanin, 1997). There is still much to be explored in the world of ZOFH and Hanin's operational measures and the implementation in an athletic performance setting. Future directions point to methodological aspects such as the assessment of the multi-dimensional emotion and non-emotion and the assessment of performance (Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015).

What is the difference between ZOFH and Flow Theory?[edit | edit source]

To Sports Psychologists and Positive Psychologists ZOFH sound very similar to Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Theory, and they focus on the same measures, however they are not in fact the same concept. The ZOFH centres on qualitatively and quantitatively measuring emotions such as anxiety and fear (can be seen as arousal in Figure 2.) and how it predicts optimal performance (Kamata, Tenenbaum & Hanin, 2002). Kamata, Tenenbaum & Hanin (2002) believe it is a state of emotional intensity from which the athlete is able to reach optimal performance. Flow theory was coined in 1975 by Csikszentmihalyi when he developed a theory to understand what made physical activity enjoyable (Mandigo & Holt, 2000). Csikszentmihalyi focuses on the 'state of enjoyment' one experiences from optimal experience (Chan & Ahern, 1999). You may say this sounds like ZOFH ... and you would be correct, however the complexity of flow focuses on the motivation and emotional experience of optimal performance (why do we feel the way we do?) and the ZOFH focuses on the performance outcome itself (did the individual achieve optimal performance from a qualitative and/or quantitative perspective?) (Mandigo & Holt, 2000; Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015).

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Flow Theory Definition
Flow theory is the emotion based theory of being immersed in any given task and feeling like an individual is "in the zone". Flow is usually associated with time passing quickly and activities being seeming easy to complete (Mandigo & Holt, 2000).
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ZOFH Definition
Zone of Optimal Functioning was developed as an operational hypothesis to identify the peak performance for each individual in a sporting activity. The point at which an individual reaches their ZOF may result in the experience of Flow (Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015).

Five dimensions of ZOFH and the emotion-performance relationships[edit | edit source]

Hanin (1993) provided a comprehensive description of the elements of ZOFH and how they could be utilised to enhance the emotion-performance relationship in many ways. Hanin and future researchers use the global affect approach which uses emotional experience to the individuals emotional content in a hedonic tone (Hanin, 2000).

Table 2. The five dimensions of ZOFH
Dimensions Emotion-performance relationships (Hanin, 1993)
1. Intensity The level, range zone and profile of the performance outcome
2. Time short or long duration, past, present or future, frequency (acute or chronic), before, during or after the performance outcome
3. Form Cognitive, Behavioural, Affective, Motivational, Bodily-somatic, performance, communicative,
4. Content positive-negative, optimal-nonoptimal, facilitative-debilitative, task relative-irrelative
5. Context Situational, interpersonal, intra-intergroup and cross-cultural

Anxiety and performance[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. The optimal performance and arousal state as once described in the Inverted U hypothesis.

Psychological theory for anxiety and sports performance[edit | edit source]

The importance of anxiety in influencing a athlete's performance is a well-known factor contributing to their success or failure (Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015). It wasn't until the early 1990's when researchers stated developing sports-specific and individualistic approaches to their anxiety-performance related theories (Krane 1992; Raglin 1992). This is where current research in the anxiety-performance relationship is growing in its findings (e.g. ZOFH and flow theory).

Pre performance event zones of functioning[edit | edit source]

Majority[grammar?] of the research has focused on the pre performance measures an athlete can take to ensure they understand the importance of the ZOF. Predictive performance zones are highlighted in Hanin & Syrjä's (1995) subjective emotion (happiness) and Bortoli & Robazza's (2002) physiological response (relaxation),[grammar?] these two biopsychosocial factors offer a stronger prediction of performance outcomes (Robazza et al., 2004). This has been a repeated measure of ZOFH and is now widely supported (Robazza et al., 2004).

Figure 3. Flow theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Positive psychology and during performance event zones of functioning[edit | edit source]

Flow theorist Csikszentmihalyi was one of the primary psychologists that developed a modern branch in the science know as positive psychology. This is the area of psychology that focuses of personal fulfilment, making the most of one's life and achieving optimal performance. Hanin and other researchers have used this mindset when developing the ZOFH (Phan & Ngu, 2017). The approach of enhancing athlete's emotional regulation skills was used in a 2012 study in which a single-case study used a 19 year old female collage[spelling?] cross-country runner gave an immediate and delayed reflection and had a social validation interview at the end of a season long intervention (Woodcock, Cumming, Duda & Sharp, 2012). Woodlock and colleagues (2012) used the modified Borg CR-10 scale to measure if she was apprehensive, dispirited, doubtful, scared, worn-out, uncertain, comfortable, calm, confident, determined and motivated. Results found that three changes were presented in the participants[grammar?] emotional state, performance process and performance outcome. This study is one of the first to observe during event zones of functioning and suggests that their could be different zone profiles between elite and non-elite athletes (Woodcock, Cumming, Duda & Sharp, 2012).

ZOFH methodology and major finding[grammar?][edit | edit source]

The primary objective in Hanin's theory is predicting performance outcomes and without understanding the arousal of the individual than this will not be achieved (Kamata, Tenenbaum & Hanin, 2002). From the development pf the ZOF model the following assumptions were made about the emotion-performance relationship;

  1. Emotions are triggered by person’s appraisals of the probability of achieving relevant goals.
  2. Since sport is a repetitive activity, situational emotional experiences gradually develop into emotional patterns.
  3. Emotion patterns are specific to the individual, task, and setting.
  4. Individual emotion–performance relationships are bi-directional.
  5. The prediction of performance is based on interactions of optimal and dysfunctional emotions.
  6. Meta-experiences are gradually developed because athletes often reflect on their experiences in successful and poor performances.

Methodology[edit | edit source]

When the ZOFH framework first began when Hannin suggested that optimal performance zones can be identified by empirical testing and retrospective recall (Thewell & Maynard, 1998). Hanin used the testing that was available for general psychology to test the " the individual's state anxiety (score) prior to ...optimal performance plus or minus half of a standard deviation (4 points) on Spielberger, Gorsuch, and Lushene's (1970) State-Trait Anxiety Inventory." (Hanin, 1997). This was the primary measure of multidimensional anxiety (testing both cognitive and somatic anxiety). Other studies later developed to include POMS, Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988), the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 (Spielberger, 1999), and Affect Grid (Russell, Weiss, & Mendelsohn, 1989). One of the most utilised sport-specific scales is the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (Martens et al., 1990).

These tools are beginning to develop with the ZOFH developing into a more dynamic and multi-faceted framework of emotional regulation. Figure 4. identifies the research conducted by Syrjä and Hanin (1997) who collected data from an ice-hockey and Olympic level Football team to determine the inter-individual variability when given the choice to answer questions that they developed that were sports specific. The previous methodical approaches were shown to identify 85% variabilities were not captured using these scales.

Figure 4. The theory of the sports-specific emotion-performance relationship ("Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) - Sportlyzer Academy", 2019; Syrjä and Hanin, 1997)

Although there are a number of approaches to collecting personality of the individual there are still not enough sports-specific tools to suggest that ZOFH trends vary across sports. The positive and negative affect scales may be the step in future research as they currently have the most widespread forms of sport-specific material with pen, pencil and computer program testing (Hanin, 1993).

Major finding[edit | edit source]

Kamata, Tenenbaum & Hanin (2002) developed on Hanin's model and broke it down into a Monotonically Increasing Probability Model (MIPM) with two major categories; optimal performance (OP) and non-optimal performance (nOP). From here the research is widely debated on the best operational measure to use to identify ZOFH. It is known that the ZOF model has a lower boundary but not an upper one, so in order to identify nOP, this study aimed to identify the upper limit which would determine the zone of non-optimal performance, allowing the results to create a bell-shaped curve like the image in Figure 2., resembling the inverted-U hypothesis. This finding helped give shape to the methodological approaches identified below as the items in the various tests, when sorted into nOP and OP reflected the MIPM (Kamata, Tenenbaum & Hanin, 2002).

The limitations identified in this model include using the traditional approaches to testing ZOF do not provide an accurate estimation of the zones of optimal functioning and the relationship between the zones needs further investigation (Kamata, Tenenbaum & Hanin, 2002). One other key finding that this study found was that the "action chain" was not developed, in this study Kamata, Tenenbaum and Hanin (2002) mention it as "the process by which IZOF is reached".

How can it be applied in future research?[edit | edit source]

Two of the major directions for future research centre on the development of the assessment of emotion-performance relationship (Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015).

Assessment of Emotion[edit | edit source]

Empirical evidence suggests that psychobiosocial states as described by Hanin (2000) (Table 1.) A model was developed recently that can potentially be used to identify the multimodal emotional profile of the athlete. This is know[grammar?] as the psychobiosocial states (PBS-S) scale (Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015). Further research is needed to develop the validity of this scale as well as how it performs on the athletic population, skill level, sport type and profiling of the emotion and non-emotion experience. Research as to each emotion associated with arousal starting with the seven basic emotions; fear, anger, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise and contempt all need to be researched further to create a valid and reliable tool for identifying the ZOF (Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015).

Assessment of Performance[edit | edit source]

The direction towards ZOFH and performance in focus on the concept of the action-centered process. The is also conceptualised by Hanin and is used for the individual athletes task execution process (Ruiz, Raglin & Hanin, 2015). This task allows the individual to describe their action as part of a sequence or "action chain" (Hanin & Ekkekakis, 2014). Developed by the future development address by Kamata, Tenenbaum and Hanin just over a decade prior, Hanin and Ekkekakis created a step-wise recording of task achievement and optimal performance is then identified by the athlete themselves. This is a mjor[spelling?] area for future research with more scales needing to be developed for numerous sports with potentially varied ZOF (Figure 4.)

Although from the research presented studies are moving towards a multidimensional, interactive and sports focused approach, ZOFH is still in its early stages and the need for further research on the emotional responses, or non-emotional responses as well as looking into the performance element itself and the pre, during and eventually post event zones of optimal functioning leave a lot to be done in the research space.

Summary of key findings
  • The difference between ZOFH and Flow Theory.
  • The five dimensions of ZOFH.
  • The contributions for Anxiety and Performance to psychological theory an research.
  • Positive psychology's role in developing ZOFH.
  • Methodology used in ZOFH.
  • Major finding of OP and nOP.
  • Future directions for development; including assessment of emotion and performance in seperate[spelling?] settings.
  • Applications of theory to professional climber Alex Honnold.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 Where were the poorest levels of performance in the zone of optimal functioning?

when the athletes cognitive and somatic anxiety were above their zone
when the athletes cognitive and somatic anxiety were below their zone
when the athletes cognitive and somatic anxiety were within their zone

2 What is the ZOF measuring?

the level of emotion in performance
the relationship between emotion and performance
the highest level performance and emotion

3 What is the earliest measure of the anxiety-athletic relationship?

Flow Theory
The Zone of Optimal Functioning Hypothesis (ZOF)
The Inverted U Hypothesis


Case study: Alex Honnold[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. The Amygdala which is responsible for fear responses to the body.

Alex Honnold, 34, is a world famous rock climber who recently become the first and only person to Free Solo a 3000ft route of El Capitan (Approximately 914m high) at Yosemite National Park on June 6, 2018 in 1hr and 58mins. He is an advocate for 'optimal state of performance" and has spoken at Ted Talks and his Oscar Nominated Documentary Free Solo about the experience of Free Solo and how it differs from other forms of climbing. His psychological perspective is in line with positive psychology and the awareness with personal fulfilment and optimal performance. Honnald himself uses many of the anxiety techniques used to reduce state-trait anxiety in his climbing routine such as mental rehearsal e.g. move-by-move rehearsal of the route to the summit of El Capitan.

In the documentary, Honnold's doctor Jane E. Joseph mentions that he has an incredibly low activity level in his amygdala (Figure 5.). This means that his response to typically fearful images is almost non-responsive, she coined his as a "super sensation seeker". An fMRI demonstrates Honnold's low reactivity in his Amygdala when asked questions relating to his fears and life decisions. This[grammar?] when compared to other sensation seekers highlights this very rare brain and his ability to process performance and fear in a way that has possibly developed over time through an extreme Pavlovian conditioning response or possible a genetic predisposition that has served as an advantage in his death-defying career. MacKinnon also displayed his personality score compared to other sensation seekers similar using a technique similar to the STAI, with the global affect approach to emotion, consistent with modern research in ZOFH Honnold reported a lower boredom score when compared to the high sensation seeker (HSS) population, lower neuroticism scores and higher urgency and perseverance. If Honnold is an atypical HSS he challenges the theory of ZOF and arousal and asks the question can the amygdala be conditioned to dismissing fear or is it a genetic pathway response?

In a study with nine musicians, scientists aimed to analyse music performance anxiety (MPA) and is identified by four traits, much like ZOFH; affect cognition, behaviour and physiology. The study corresponds with research that there is significant findings for two signal paths for performance anxiety. One through the thalamus and the amygdala to a vegetative, autonomous nervous system, resulting in the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline. The other is slower and exhibits conscious reaction, displaying recognition of the situation and is located in the hippocampus (Spahn, Echternach, Zander, Voltmer & Richter, 2010). Honnold could potentially be a candidate for a similar study on rock climbers, sensation seekers, or elite athletes.

"For two hours and 45 minutes Honnold has been in the zone . . .If Honnold's fingertips can't hold, or if he merely believes his fingertips can't hold, he will fall to his death." National Geographic Article

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The ZOFH is a theory that was developed to improve the awareness of the emotion-performance relationship in a sports-specific environment. Hanin's work has developed since the 1980s and continues to challenge how psychologists understand individual responses to arousal. Famous athletes such as Alex Honnold open up new discoveries into how the brain processes arousal and if it can be conditioned. The ZOFH is a step in the direction towards understanding optimal performance and pushing boundaries in sport excellence. It is an incredibly new area and as such any news is good news for this medium in sport psychology, and psychology in general. Prior to Hanin (1980), the relationship between emotion and performance had used general methodological techniques within psychology and now is moving towards a sport-specific way of research for both elite and non-elite athletes. Results from studies using the ZOFH can help the general population discover how to achieve their 'optimal performance' at any given task e.g. in the office, at home, with their diet. The future directions for this theory include studying the non-optimal performance measure in more depth, researching other biopsychosocial factors and fundamental emotions e.g. fear, sadness then developing into more complex emotions to predict future performance outcomes. This modern concept has a long way to go in the field of psychology but is an incredibly exciting one!

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bortoli, L., Bertollo, M., Filho, E., & Robazza, C. (2014). Do psychobiosocial states mediate the relationship between perceived motivational climate and individual motivation in youngsters? Journal of Sports Sciences, 32, 572–582

Chan, T., & Ahern, T. (1999). Targeting Motivation—Adapting Flow Theory to Instructional Design. Journal Of Educational Computing Research, 21, 151-163. https://doi.org/10.2190/uj04-t5yb-yfxe-0bg2

Hanin, Y. L. (1995). Individual zones of optimal functioning (IZOF) model: An idiographic approach to performance anxiety. In K. Henschen & W. Straub (Eds.), Sport psychology: An analysis of athlete behavior (pp. 103–119). Longmeadow, MA: Movement Publications.

Hanin, Y. L. (1997). Emotions and athletic performance: Individual zones of optimal functioning model. European Yearbook of Sport Psychology, 1, 29–72.

Hanin, Y. L., & Stambulova, N. B. (2002). Athlete-generated metaphors as descriptors of performance states. Svensk Idrottspsykologi, 2, 7–9.

Hanin, Y. L., & Ekkekakis, P. (2014). Emotions in sport and exercise settings. In A. Papaioannou & D. Hackfort (Eds.), Routledge companion to sport and exercise psychology: Global perspectives and fundamental concepts (pp. 83–104). New York, NY: Routledge.

Kamata, A., Tenenbaum, G., & Hanin, Y. (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

Krane, V. (1992). Conceptual and methodological considerations in sport anxiety research: From the inverted-U hypothesis to catastrophe theory. Quest, 44, 72–81.

Krane, V. (1993). A practical application of the anxiety-athletic performance relationship: The zone of optimal functioning hypothesis. The Sport Psychologist, 7, 113–126.

Mandigo, J., & Holt, N. (2000). Putting Theory into Practice: How Cognitive Evaluation Theory Can Help Us Motivate Children in Physical Activity Environments. Journal Of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 71, 44-49. https://doi.org/10.1080/07303084.2000.10605984

Martens, R., Burton, D., Vealey, R. Bump, L., & Smith, D. (1990). Development and validation of the competitive state anxiety inventory-2. In R. Martens, R. S. Vealey, & D. Burton (Eds.), Competitive anxiety in sport (pp. 117–190). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Phan, H., & Ngu, B. (2017). Positive psychology: The use of the Framework of Achievement Bests to facilitate personal flourishing (pp. 19-50). Trnava: Intech.

Raglin, J. S., & Hanin, Y. L. (2000) Competitive anxiety and athletic performance. In Y. L. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport (pp. 93–112). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Robazza, C. (2006). Emotion in sport: An IZOF perspective. In S. Hanton & S. D. Mellalieu (Eds.), Literature reviews in sport psychology (pp. 127–158). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.

Ruiz, M., Raglin, J., & Hanin, Y. (2015). The individual zones of optimal functioning (IZOF) model (1978–2014): Historical overview of its development and use. International Journal Of Sport And Exercise Psychology, 15, 41-63. https://doi.org/10.1080/1612197X.2015.1041545

Russell, J. A., Weiss, A., & Mendelsohn, G. A. (1989). Affect grid: A single-item scale of pleasure and arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 493–502. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.57.3.493

Spahn, C., Echternach, M., Zander, M., Voltmer, E., & Richter, B. (2010). Music performance anxiety in opera singers. Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, 35, 175-182. https://doi.org/10.3109/14015431003720600

Spielberger, C. (1999). State–Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 (STAXI-2). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resource.

Syrjä, P., & Hanin, Y. L. (1997a). Individualised and group-oriented measures of emotion in sport: A comparative study. Annual congress of the European college of sports science. Book of abstracts. Part II, Copenhagen, Denmark: University of Copenhagen. pp. 641–642.

Thelwell, R., & Maynard, I. (1998). Anxiety-Performance Relationships in Cricketers: Testing the Zone of Optimal Functioning Hypothesis. Perceptual And Motor Skills, 87, 675-689. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1998.87.2.675

Watson, D., Clark, L., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063–1070. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.54.6.1063

Woodcock, C., Cumming, J., Duda, J., & Sharp, L. (2012). Working within an Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) framework: Consultant practice and athlete reflections on refining emotion regulation skills. Psychology Of Sport And Exercise, 13, 291-302. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2011.11.011

Woodman, T., Albinson, J., & Hardy, L. (1997). An Investigation of the Zones of Optimal Functioning Hypothesis Within a Multidimensional Framework. Journal Of Sport And Exercise Psychology, 19, 131-141. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.19.2.131

Yerkes, R., & Dodson, J. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation. Journal Of Comparative Neurology And Psychology, 18(5), 459-482. https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.920180503

External links[edit | edit source]