Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Emotion/Sport

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Sport and emotions[edit source]

Sport and Emotions

This page is part of the Motivation and emotion textbook. See also: Guidelines.
Completion status: this resource is considered to be complete.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

How are emotions and sports related? What causes emotions in sport? What affect does emotion have on sport? One good reason to read this chapter is to find the answers to these questions.

In order to fully examine the affect of emotions in sport and exercise we first need to fully understand what emotion is. Emotions are:

  • short lived
  • feelings
  • social
  • purposeful
  • physiological
  • caused by life events

So which of these best represents what an emotion is? Not one single aspect adequately defines emotion. Reeve (2009) suggests that emotions are made up of all of the above aspects. Emotions are short lived feelings arising from life events that are made up of four components: feelings, social-expressive, bodily arousal and sense of purpose (Reeve 2009).

So what do emotions have to do with sport? Emotions are related to all aspects of our lives, including sport. Sport psychologists have long examined the antecedents of emotions and the consequences of emotions in a sporting setting. Understanding these impacts of emotions on sport and sport on emotions will help to predict certain emotions and predict both inter- and intra-personal consequences. The first section of this chapter will examine the theory and research regarding the antecedents of emotion while the second section will focus on the theory and research behind emotional consequences.

Learning Objectives[edit | edit source]

  1. Understand and explain how emotions and sport are affect one another.
  2. Understand and explain the theories of the antecedents of emotion in sport.
  3. Understand and explain how emotions have consequences in a number of aspects of sport.

Theories of the Antecedents of Emotion in Sport[edit | edit source]

Emotions play a significant role in a sporting setting (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). To understand the effects of emotions in sport we must first examine how these emotions occur. Here we will discuss the antecedents of emotions in a sporting setting. We will focus on the early theories such as, the James-Lange Theory; the Cannon-Bard Theory; the Schacter-Singer Theory; and Arnold’s Appraisal Theory. Modern theories will then be examined, including, Weiner’s Attribution Theory and the Intuitive-Reflective Appraisal Model. And finally the motivation and goal theories will be examined including, the Self-Determination Theory and Goal Orientations. These theories were selected to be analysed due to their importance in the history and future directions of research regarding emotions in sport.

Early Theories[edit | edit source]

James-Lange Theory[edit | edit source]

The James-Lange theory of emotion proposes that emotions occur as a result of peripheral bodily cues (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). According to this theory, emotion occurs as a result of noticing an external stimulus which leads to a physiological response which is then interpreted as an emotion (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

For example, you are playing a game of football and see an angry player running towards you, your heart starts to race and you begin to shake you then interpret these responses as fear.

However, this theory faced a number of limitations. For example, research has demonstrated that emotions are experienced much faster than physiological responses in response to a stimulus (Bard 1928; Cannon 1927; Lehmann, 1968). Research also suggests that physiological responses enhance rather than cause emotions (Bard 1928; Cannon 1927; Lehmann 1968).

James-Lange Theory of emotion

Cannon-Bard Theory[edit | edit source]

The Cannon-Bard Theory of emotion was proposed by physiologists Walter Cannon and Philip Bard (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). The theory suggests that when you perceive a stimulus it arouses the thalamus. The thalamus then interprets the stimulus and sends impulses to both internal organs and the cerebral cortex, producing emotional behaviours and experiences (Cannon 1927).

For example, you see the angry football player coming towards you; you interpret this event via the thalamus which leads to a simultaneous physical reaction and emotion.

There is very little research regarding the criticisms of this theory of emotion however, Schachter and Singer proposed that emotion occurs through both cognitive and physiological responses rather than just the physiological responses as proposed by the Cannon-Bard Theory (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

Cannon-Bard Theory of emotion

Schacter-Singer Theory[edit | edit source]

The Schachter-Singer Theory of emotion proposes that emotions occur as a result of both physiological responses and cognition (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). The theory specifies that for an emotion to occur a pre-existing unexplained arousal must be explained by cognitive interpretation (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

For example, you feel your heart start to race and you begin to shake, you examine your surroundings and notice the angry football player this leads you experience fear.

However, the theory faced a number of criticisms. For example, the theory does not identify the origin of the arousal leading to the emotion (Zillman 1978). Another criticism of the Schachter-Singer Theory is that it does not explain how arousal and cognition combine to lead to emotion (Leventhal 1974). Vallerand and Blanchard (2000) also propose that the theory may not apply to everyday situations, for example, the football player did not need to have experienced prior arousal in order to feel the fear.

Schacter-Singer Theory of emotion

Arnold's Appraisal Theory[edit | edit source]

The Appraisal Theory of emotions proposes that emotions are a result of an individual’s appraisal of an event (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Arnold identifies two types of appraisals that can occur:

  1. Intuitive appraisal: An almost automatic type of appraisal that is necessary for experiencing emotion; and
  2. Rational appraisal: A reflective type of appraisal that is used to enhance the effects of the intuitive appraisal (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). This type of appraisal is not necessary for experiencing an emotion (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000

Arnold proposes that appraisal of a stimulus produces physiological changes which lead to the experience of emotion (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

For example, seeing the angry football player you might quickly appraise the situation as dangerous and feel fear; but then you realise that the player is running passed you to tackle another player, you will then reappraise the situation and feel relief.

However, Arnold’s theory has come under some criticism. For example, the theory does not examine or explain the content of the appraisals and therefore cannot be used to predict specific emotions (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). The emphasis on voluntary processes provides another limitation to the theory as it is based on the assumption that individuals can accurately report on processes which occur in their unconscious (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

Arnold’s Appraisal Theory of emotion

Modern Theories[edit | edit source]

Weiner's Attributional Theory[edit | edit source]

Weiner’s Attribution Theory of emotion proposes that emotion occurs because of how individuals attribute causes to events and behaviour (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). There are three sources of emotion in Weiner’s Attribution Theory, these are:

  1. The impact of an event: an event produces emotion (outcome-dependent emotions; the first and strongest emotion experienced);
  2. Attributions for the outcome: the attributions lead to more distinct emotions (attribution-dependent emotions); and
  3. Causal dimensions: the factors leading to attributions that produce distinct emotions. These are: locus (internal or external), stability (permanent or changing) and control (controlled or not) (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

For example, you win a tennis tournament and feel good about it. You attribute your success to your skills which leads you to experience of pride; after examining the casual dimensions leading you to reinforce the internal factors of your success resulting in a prolonged feeling of self esteem.

Research indicates that attributions explain very limited amount of variance within emotions in a sporting setting (Biddle 1993; Biddle & Hanrahan 1998). Another limitation of this theory the lack of research that demonstrating that attributions cause emotions (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000; McFarland & Ross 1982).

Weiner’s Attribution Theory of emotion

Intuitive-Reflective Appraisal Model[edit | edit source]

In the Intuitive-Reflective Appraisal Model emotions are produced not by the event but by the cognitive appraisal of the event (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). The two types of appraisal in this model are:

  1. Intuitive appraisal: involves an automatic subjective appraisal of performance; and
  2. Reflective appraisal: involves cognitive processing of the external and internal environment (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

The reflective appraisal is not necessary for experiencing an emotion, this type of appraisal is used to either minimise or enhance the effects of the intuitive appraisal (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

For example, you are playing golf and intuitively know that you are not playing well you then attribute your bad game to a lack of sleep from the night before. This leads you to experience the emotion of frustration.

However, the intuitive-reflective appraisal model has some limitations. For example, Vallerand and Blanchard (2000) point out that the model only includes emotions that are assessed in achievement situations. Using this model to examine all types of emotions related to sports may provide a fuller understanding of how appraisal works to produce an emotion.

Intuitive-Reflective Appraisal Model of emotion

Motivation and Goal Theories[edit | edit source]

Self Determination Theory[edit | edit source]

The Self-Determination Theory proposes that emotions occur through different types of motivations (Vallerand & Blanchard, 2000). The types of motivation evaluated in the Self-Determination Theory are:

  1. Intrinsic motivation: engaging in an activity for the simple pleasure of the activity;
  2. Identified regulation: engaging in an activity because you have chosen to;
  3. Introjected regulation: engagement out of a sense of obligation;
  4. External regulation: engagement because of someone else is pressuring them; and
  5. Amotivation: absence of motivation (Vallerand & Blanchard, 2000).

Sport psychologists have researched the emotional consequences of these types of motivation. It was found that intrinsic motivation, indentified and introjected regulation produced the most positive emotions; amotivation and external regulation produced the most negative emotions (Pelletier et al. 1995; Briere et al. 1995; Blanchard & Vallerand, 1996).

For example, you join a netball team because your friends are pressuring you to; this leads you to experience negative emotions such as boredom regarding playing netball.

Self-Determination Theory of emotion

Goal Orientations Model[edit | edit source]

A number of researchers suggest that emotions occur as a result of goals (Vallerand & Blanchard, 2000). The goals evaluated in this approach to understanding emotions in a sporting setting are:

  1. Ego involvement: engage in sport to demonstrate their level of skill to others; and
  2. Task involvement: engage in sport to gain and perfect skills for themselves (Vallerand & Blanchard, 2000).

These two types of goals involve different types if motivations and therefore will result in different emotional states. For example, research demonstrates that task orientated goals is positively correlated with enjoyment (Newton & Duda, 1993; Duda & Nicholls, 1992) and negatively correlated with worry (Newton & Duda, 1993). Whereas, ego orientated goals were found to be positively correlated with feelings of boredom (Duda & Nicholls, 1992) and cognitive anxiety (Duda, Chi & Newton, 1990; Hall, Kerr & Matthews 1998).

For example, you decide to take part in a university basketball game as a way to learn the game and increase your skills; this goal leads you to experience positive emotions such as enjoyment.

Goal Orientations model of emotion

Consequences of Emotion in Sport[edit | edit source]

Numerous researchers have emphasised the role of emotions in sports (Hanin 2000; Vallerand & Blanchard 2000; Frijda 1896). Researchers have suggested that emotions are either helpful or disruptive (Hebb 1949; Frijda 1994). However, certain emotions may lead to either effect depending on the situation and the individual. Therefore it has been suggested that emotional functions may play a differential role in sporting settings depending on the situation and the individual (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Here we will discuss the consequences of emotions in a sporting setting on motivational functioning, cognitive functioning, health, interpersonal functioning and performance.

Motivational Consequences[edit | edit source]

A number of researchers have suggested that our emotions play a vital role in motivation (Jones 2003; Frijda 1986; Hanin 2000; Weiner 1977). Emotions serve as a function of adaptation that organise and motivate physiological and cognitive resources towards a task (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000; Jones 2003; Izzard 1992). Researchers have demonstrated the importance of these motivational consequences in a sporting setting.

Izard (1993) proposes that emotions are closely related to motivations in that emotions direct an individual to focus on their immediate concerns and needs. This view was supported by Weiner (1977) who proposed that specific emotions are related to distinct motives (for example, anger leads to an aggressive motive). Other researchers have found similar results (Lazarus 1991). Therefore, research provides evidence supporting the notion that specific emotions play a major role in predicting specific motivations.

Motivational consequences of emotions have been described as action tendencies (Deci 1980). These tendencies lead to approach behaviours (for example anger) or avoidance behaviours (for example fear) (Deci 1980; Vallerand & Blanchard 2000; Frijda 1986). However, certain emotions could lead to either approach or avoidance behaviours depending on the situation and the individual (Jones 2003). For example, if an individual feels guilty about performing poorly during a football came they may either:

  • Try to stay of the action to avoid further errors, or
  • Try to be in the action as much as possible to make up for previous errors.

Therefore, research suggests that emotions have specific motivational consequences however further research is needed to examine individual differences in emotional motivations.

Cognitive Consequences[edit | edit source]

Emotions and the physiological changes in emotions associated with those emotions have been found to impact upon an individual’s cognitive functioning (Parfitt, Jones & Hardy 1990; Jones 2003; Jones & Cale 1989; Easterbrook 1959). Researchers have demonstrated the importance of these cognitive consequences in a sporting setting.

Both emotions and the changes in arousal associated with those emotions are seen to impact on an individual’s cognitive functioning (Forgas 1995; Jones 2003). Research has demonstrated that increased arousal has significant effects on cognitive functioning (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Parfitt (1990), for example, found that an increase in a person’s arousal levels can impair their working memory. High levels of arousal can also be found to reduce an individual’s focus of attention (Easterbrook 1959), the reduced attention may have positive effects; allowing an individual to properly focus on task relevant cues (Jones 2003), however the reduced attention may also have negative effects for example, if the field of attention is too narrow the athlete will not attend to important cues (this has also been found to be true when an individual whose level of arousal was too low) (Easterbrook 1959; Jones 2003; Abernethy 1993). For example, Bird and Horn (1990) conducted a study on high school softball player who completed the competitive state anxiety inventory before a game. This was then compared to the amount of mental errors made during the game. Athletes in the higher error group scored significantly higher in cognitive state anxiety. Therefore, research provides evidence supporting the notion that emotions and the changes in arousal associated with those emotions are seen to impact on an individual’s cognitive functioning.

The emotional experience of worrying has been found to have impacts in a sporting settings. For example, Eysenck and Calvo (1992) found that worrying may positively impact performance and enhance concentration, for example a worried individual may focus more attention on the task at hand by allocating extra mental resources. However, worry can also reduce the cognitive resources available for a task; this can result in lowered attention on the task at hand thus reducing the likelihood of processing relevant information (Moran 1996; Jones 2003). Therefore, research provides evidence supporting the notion that the emotional experience of worry may affect an individual’s focus of attention in a sporting setting. However, further research is required to better predict what type of effect worry has.

Therefore the cognitive consequences of emotions have significant impacts in a sporting setting. Further research into this area may provide a better understanding of the effects of arousal on cognitive functioning.

Rafael Nadal experiencing anger during a tennis match

Health Consequences[edit | edit source]

Numerous authors have suggested that emotions have a significant effect on an individual’s health in sporting settings (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Emotions have long been associated with health consequences (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000), researchers have begun to evaluate these effects in sporting settings.

One health consequence of emotions is the reduced likelihood of illness for individuals who express their emotions (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Research supports this concept, for example, Pennebaker (1995) found that athletes express their feelings regarding a bad game with others or through a diary are more likely to be healthier than those who do not express their feelings. This research indicates that expression of emotions through discussions or writing may reduce the risks of physical illnesses in a sporting setting.

Emotions are also seen to have consequences on the immune system (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). For example the immune system mediates between stress and illness, being stressed can lead to deficiencies in the immune system which lead to illness (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Research indicates that the stress associated with professional and college sports may lead to physical symptoms and injuries associated with deficiencies in the functioning of the immune system (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Therefore, continued negative emotions, such as stress, may have significant consequences on the functioning of the immune system.

Burnout is another health consequence associated with emotions in sport. Burnout is defined as a psychological syndrome characterised by a feeling of emotional exhaustion and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment resulting from chronic stress (Maslach & Jackson 1986; Dale & Weinberg 1990). Murphy, Fleck, Dudley and Callister (1990) conducted a study on elite judo athletes. It was found that during the long term training program the athletes became more angry and fatigued as time wore on. At the end of the program the athletes experienced significant decreases in anaerobic endurance and strength. Research like this demonstrates the significant effects that burnout can have in sporting settings.

Therefore the health consequences of emotion may have significant effects in sport. Research findings in this area are important in explaining the instances of illness, decreased functioning of the immune system and burnout in a sporting setting.

Interpersonal Consequences[edit | edit source]

Emotions are also seen to have interpersonal consequences in sporting settings. Vallerand and Blanchard (2000) propose three major areas of interpersonal consequences that may have significant effects in sporting settings.

One interpersonal consequence of emotions has been demonstrated by Hatfield, Cacippo and Rapson (1992, 1994) who propose that emotions are ‘contagious’. This is important as this tendency to ‘catch’ an emotion is very common in the sporting setting (Hatfield, Cacippo & Rapson 1992, 1994; Vallerand 1983) as participants in this setting freely express emotions and often share them (Snyder 1990). For example, seeing your teammate smile during a game of netball may cause you to smile or feel happier. Of interest here is the trigger for your smile may come from the interpersonal happiness of your teammate. Future research is needed to examine the extent to which emotional displays of one individual can affect the behaviour of others (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

Another interpersonal consequence of emotions in a sport and exercise setting has been proposed by Weiner et al. (1987). Weiner et al. (1987) proposed that the appraisal of another person’s emotional message can have a significant impact upon behaviour in sport. For example, a team captain may express anger towards a player for making an error. The player may judge this anger as occurring because of a lack of effort. The player would then feel shame and try harder so as to not perform the error again. However if the captain displayed sympathy after the error, the message the player may have attributed the error to occurring because of a lack of skills. The player would then experience feelings of incompetence. A number of social psychologists support this theory (see Vallerand & Blanchard 2000) however, future research is needed to analyse the effects of appraisal in sports psychology.

Vallerand (1983, 1984) proposed that other people’s emotions affect our own behaviour and emotions. For example, social psychologists Schmidt and Weiner (1988) and Weiner (1980) conducted a study examining this effect and it was found that when a person felt anger towards an individual they much less likely to help that person when compared to when that person felt sympathy towards that individual. However, very little research has examined this effect in a sporting setting; future research is needed to fully examine this effect.

Therefore, interpersonal consequences of emotion may have significant effects in a sporting setting. However, research in the areas of interpersonal consequences of emotions in a sporting setting is limited. Future research is needed in this area to fully understand the effects of emotions on interpersonal consequences.

A football player experiencing disappointment after losing a game

Performance Consequences[edit | edit source]

Performance is another aspect of the sporting world that is affected by emotions. A better understanding of the emotions involved in optimal performance will allow researchers to predict performance and understand the consequences of emotional processes.

Most research regarding emotional effects on sport performance deal with anxiety or arousal. Changes in arousal that accompany emotions are believed to impact upon the performance and physical functioning of an athlete (Jones 2003). Research suggests that these heightened levels of arousal facilitate performance (Jones 2003). For example, Gould, Ekund and Jackson (1992) conducted research on the performance of Olympic wrestlers. The wrestlers were interviewed about their pre-competition preparation; it was found that 70% of the wrestlers felt heightened states of arousal before their best matches. Further research has indicated that high levels of arousal can also enhance performance by increasing anaerobic power (Hardy, Jones & Gould 1996; Parfitt, Hardy & Pates 1995; Parfitt, Jones & Hardy 1990). However, the increase in arousal could also have negative effects; for example when completing fine motor tasks high arousal levels increase muscular tension, which can result in difficulties with coordination (Oxendine 1970) manual dexterity and control (Parfitt, Jones & Hardy 1990).

Sports performance can also be affected by individual differences. Hanin (1978) proposed the model of Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) to predict future performance. In the IZOF model each athlete determines which types of positive and negative emotions they experience during their best and worst performances; these details are then used to predict future performances (Hanin 2000). Hanin (2000) emphasised the role of individual differences, claiming that athletes perform best when in their own zone of optimal arousal. Research supports this model demonstrating that athletes perform better when they are close to or within their optimal zones of arousal when compared to those athletes who performed outside their optimal zones (Gould et al. 1993; Krane 1993; Turner & Raglin 1996).

Hanin (1997) conducted further research into the IZOF model it was found that the top 9 functionally optimal emotions are energetic, charged, motivated, certain, confident, purposeful, willing, resolute, and alert. The top 9 dysfunctional positive emotions are easygoing, excited, composed, relaxed, overjoyed, fearless, satisfied, exalted, and pleasant. The top 9 functionally optimal negative emotions are tense, charged, dissatisfied, attacking, vehement, intense, nervous, irritated, and provoked. And, finally the top 9 dysfunctional negative emotions are: tired, unwilling, uncertain, sluggish, depressed, lazy, distressed, sorrowful, and afraid. The use of this research will better help psychologists to predict performance (both good and bad) (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000).

However, the IZOF model has come under a number of criticisms. For example, the IZOF model provides no explanation for why the same emotional states produce individual differences in performance (Gould & Tuffey 1996; Crocker, Kowalski, Graham & Kowalski 2002). Another criticism of the IZOF model is that the model does not explain how specific emotions are produced in athletes (Crocker et al. 2002). Future research should address these issues with the IZOF model.

Therefore, research suggests that emotions may have significant consequences on performance in a sporting setting. Further research into this area may provide important information on predicting sport performance.

Summary[edit | edit source]

In summary, emotions and sport significantly impact upon one another. Certain sporting situations can lead to the development of emotions and these emotions can have significant impacts on sporting aspects. Understanding these factors will aid in the prediction of emotions and the inter- and intra-personal consequences of these emotions.

Examination of the causes of emotions led to the exploration of early theories that have paved the way for current appraisal theories of emotion and the modern motivation and goal theories. The current view of the antecedents of emotions is that emotions occur due to our appraisals or evaluations of events (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). However another line of research proposed that the motivations and goals behind our behaviours lead to our different emotions(Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Future research is needed to fully examine these theories and their roles in predicting future emotion as well as possible ways to encourage certain emotions while discouraging others.

As we have seen, emotions can have significant consequences in the sporting world. Emotions have either positive or negative effects (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000) that can be seen when examining the role of emotions on motivational functioning, cognitive functioning, health, interpersonal functioning and performance (Vallerand & Blanchard 2000). Future research should examine individual differences in the consequences of certain emotions as well as how to predict performance.


This section will offer a series of questions to aid in learning the content and offer directions for future study and investigation.


1 James-Lange theory of emotion proposes that emotions occur...?

as a result of cognitive appraisal.
as a result of peripheral bodily cues.
through the thalamus interpreting a stimulus.
before physiological responses.

2 True of false: emotions have little effect on performance in sport?


3 What was the main criticism of the Cannon-Bard Theory?

The theory may not apply to everyday situations.
Emotions are experienced much faster than physiological responses.
Emotion occurs through both cognitive and physiological responses.
There were no criticisms of the Cannon-Bard Theory.

4 You decide to join a football team to show off your skills. Which type of goal orientation are you involved in?

Ego involvement.
Task involvement.

5 You participate in a sport because you want to get fit. Which type of motivation/regulation is influencing you?

Intrinsic motivation.
Identified regulation.
Introjected regulation.
External regulation.

See also

References[edit | edit source]

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