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The Role of Personality in Sport: Conceptual and Methodological Challenges. Eugene V. Aidman University of Adelaide, Australia . The Science of Personality. we are: different from anyone else ( uniqueness ) remain ourselves across situations ( consistency )

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the role of personality in sport conceptual and methodological challenges

The Role of Personality in Sport: Conceptual and Methodological Challenges

Eugene V. Aidman

University of Adelaide, Australia

the science of personality
The Science of Personality
  • we are:
    • different from anyone else (uniqueness)
    • remain ourselves across situations (consistency)
  • These differencesare measurable
  • Thurstone’s law: if something exists, it exists in some amount and can therefore be measured
  • Personality research: study of measurable individual differences – but what are they?
  • Situation-free dispositions (i.e. aggregated across time) vs situationally hedged dispositions = conditional and interactive with the situations in which they are expressed(Mischel, 2004)
personality sport
Personality & Sport
  • Compared to non-sport playing controls on 16PF, national level competitorsare (Williams, 1985):
    • higher emotional stability
    • greater mental toughness
    • more self-assured
    • more trusting
  • Getting into an Olympic squad in wrestling (Silva et al., 1985) linked to (16PF) sociability, boldness, emotional stability and apprehension
mood states and performance
Mood States and Performance
  • Morgan & Hammer (1974) - Terry (2000) better performing athletes display more positive mental states:
    • less anxious
    • less depressed
    • less fatigued
    • less confused
    • more vigorous (and extroverted)
mental health profile
Mental health profile
  • Positive Mental Health Profile: (Morgan & Johnson, 1978) found lower levels of psychopathology (MMPI) in more successful University oarsmen
  • However: hardly any replication
    • e.g. Brown, Morgan & Kihlstrom (1989) found no significant associations between MMPI profiles of collegiate athletes and their athletic success
anxiety and performance
Anxiety and Performance
  • Levels - high vs low - are insufficient
  • state - trait anxiety (Spielberger)
  • cognitive appraisal of threat:
    • facilitative anxiety: stress response as excitement
    • debilitative anxiety: stress response as threatening
personality achievement
Personality & Achievement
  • Davis & Mogk (1994) compared elite, sub-elite, non-elite and non-athletes on EPQ, Sensation-seeking and Achievieng Tendency scales:
    • the key factors linked to the level of competitive achievment:
      • emotional stability
      • and achievment motivation
personality and success
Personality and success
  • Piedmont, Hill & Blanco (1999): coach ratings of performance and game stats linked to the Big Five profiles of elite soccer players:
    • Neuroticism / emotional stability
    • Conscientiousness / «will to achieve»
    • acceptance of criticism: «coachability», in turn linked to higher self-esteem
personality and performance
Personality and Performance
  • Origins in Org- and Ed- psychology:selecting for success
  • Personality-Related Position Requirements Form (PPRF; Raymark & Schmidt, 1997):
    • based on the Big Five model (McRae & Costa, 1992)
    • found personality factors predictive of job performance based on specific competencies (job needs analysis)
  • Sport Psychology is yet to follow PPRF’s lead
personality and sport performance
Personality and Sport Performance
  • sceptical vs credulos debate (Morgan, 1980)
    • Personality is a weak predictor of Sport Performance
    • but it is a Predictor
  • Weak theory - wrong place to look for connections
  • Weak method - hopeless in catching a connection even if there was one (insufficient design)
  • The connection is unlikely to be DIRECT and IMMEDIATE
the role of personality in sport exercise
The Role of Personality in Sport & Exercise
  • in the long run:converting ability into achievement
  • from promice to delivery
        • sub-elite to elite sport transition
  • «here and now»:moderating the effects of circumstances on performance
      • stress tolerance -vs- anxiety volatile
      • motivated -vs- slack: e.g. winning from behind
      • focused -vs- all over the place
      • injury pronene - hardy
Example 1: Personality in Long Term AchievementElite Juniors’ transition to Senior AFL (Aidman, 2004)Method
  • 32 elite junior players from a leading Australian Football League (AFL) club: mean age 17.8 (1.1)
  • players profiled with Cattell’s 16PF (Form A) at the peak of their junior playing career – immediately after the season where they won the National Championship in their age group.
  • Head Coach rated players’ performance and physical potential (5-point Likert scales)
  • 7-year follow-up: has the player made it to senior AFL(drafted+played at least one season) or not ?
  • 13 players made it into senior AFL competition
  • 19 others ended up playing minor leagues or dropped out of the game altogether
  • MANOVA showed no significant differences between these two groups of players on primary personality factor profiles
  • when the players’ physical potential rated by their junior head coach was controlled for in an MANCOVA, the differences between the groups became highly significant: both on multivariate estimates (F (16, 14) = 3.506; p = .012) and on a number of individual factors
predicting senior afl performance from personality
Predicting senior AFL performance from personality
  • Prediction targets:
  • performance in junior championship at the time of testing
  • aggregate of senior achievement over the last 5 seasons (Alpha=.96)
  • coach rating on a 5-point scale: "struggling vs cruising through senior league ranks"
  • Confirmed the influence of Personality factors on sub-elite to elite sport transition in AFL
  • however, this influence is
    • indirect
    • observable only in the long term
  • Interaction with Ability:
    • Ability (physique in AFL) = entry ticket
    • Personality acts as ameans of converting ability into achievement (from a promicing junior to an accomplished athlete)
example 2 personality and on the day performance prediction aidman beckerman 2001
Example 2: Personality and on-the-day performance prediction (Aidman & Beckerman, 2001)
  • Specific personality characteristics implicated:
    • Emotional stability
    • Achievement orientation
    • Conscientiousness (e.g., discipline)
    • Self-concept (e.g., confidence)
    • Anxiety
  • Participants: 48 Australian Rules football players (M = 21.40 years, SD = 3.11 years) who played a full season with a successful Victorian Football League (VFL) club
  • Instruments:
    • Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; McCrae & Costa, 1992)
    • Self-Apperception Test (SAT-2; Aidman, 1997, 1999)
    • Self-Liking/Self-Competence Scale (SLCS; Tafarodi & Swann, 1995)
    • Stress Appraisal Questionnaire: Threatening versus Exciting
  • Procedure
    • Aggregated game statistics across a complete season 
    • ‘Credits’ score representing the effort and quality of performance for each player in every game
  • Three distinct groups of players identified:
    • elite (senior players)
    • non-elite (reserves)
    • sub-elite (“swingers” – players who played at both levels)
  • groups were found to be predictably different on:
    • Self-discipline
    • Achievement Striving
    • Neuroticism (Fig. 1)
results interaction between personality and situation in the prediction of effort
Results: Interaction between personality and situation in the prediction of effort
  • Three categories of games identified:
    • ‘Close Games” - in dispute for almost the entirety of the game
    • ‘Easy Wins’ - where the result was well in the team’s favour most of the way and no longer in dispute
    • ‘Bad Losses’ - where the team was well beaten most of the way and no longer in the contest
  • Hierarchical Regressionpredicting game performance:
    • “easy win” games predictors: Self-discipline and Neuroticism
    • “close” games predictors: Neuroticism and Self-esteem
    • “bad losses” - no connection
table 1 game performance credits sd across three game types by stress appraisal





Close Game

Easy Win

Bad Loss



4.762 (0.811)

5.452 (0.818)

5.590 (0.823)


4.217 (0.796)

4.383 (0.803)

4.376 (0.808)



3.744 (0.817)

3.950 (0.824)

2.756 (0.829)


4.696 (0.513)

4.592 (0.517)

4.385 (0.520)

Table 1. Game performance (‘Credits’) (SD) Across Three Game types, by Stress Appraisal
three aspec ts of self

Example 3:Self-esteem and Performance

(Meagher & Aidman, 2004)

Three aspects of Self:
  • Cognitive: self-attributions
      • bright, attractive, athletic, slow etc.
  • Affective: how we feel about these self-attributions (evaluation)
      • self-esteem = affective avaluation of self (Martens, 1975)
  • Behavioural: our tendencies to behave in accordance with self-image
      • Self-concept as self-fulfillling prophecy: self-concept is more than self-descriptions, its a commitment to continue being oneself “as described”
rationale for indirect measurement of self

Rationale for Indirect Measurement of Self

Global self-attitudes vs self-descriptions

self-presentation distortions

deliberate (faking, impression management)

self-deceptions (genuine)

affective / implicit elements of Self

displaced self-esteem (Cialdini, 1993)

self-positivity bias (Taylor & Brown, 1988)

implicit affiliation / rejection (Tesser, 1988; Suls & Wills, 1991)

indirect measurement of self attitudes essential ingredients
Indirect Measurement of Self-Attitudes:Essential Ingredients
  • Responce latencies in mixed category discrimination tasks (IAT; Greenwald et al. 1998)
  • (semi) projective stimulation relevant to Self-image
    • fuzzy images (Ligett, 1959) / facial sketches (Aidman, 1999)
  • replicable procedure:
    • semantic differential (Snider &Osgood, 1969)
  • Relevant self-attitude scales:
    • global (self-worth, self-competence)
    • specific (ability, attractiveness, strength...)
Self-reportedvs indirect self-appraisal and elite swimmers’ performance (Aidman & Perry, 2000)Method: Participants
  • 38 elite Australian swimmers (15 females and 23 males, mean age 20.1 years, SD = 2.84) participated as part of their preparation program for the 1998 World Championship
method instruments
Method: Instruments
  • Self-Liking/Self-Competence Scale (Tafarodi & Swann, 1995) Cronbach’s alphas: .92 for self-liking .89 for self-competence
  • Self-Apperception Test (SAT; Aidman, 1999) – measuring implicit self-appraisal (ISA) Cronbach’s alpha: .83-.90 for Global ISA (retest reliability 0.57 - 0.84)
method procedure
Method: Procedure
  • Self-appraisal measures taken 3 months and 1 week prior to the competition (time 1)
  • ISP (international performance ratings devised by FINA) recorded at time 1 and immediately after the competition
  • implicit self-attitudes hypothesised to predict ISP change (positive self-affect to be associated with gains in ISP)
Declared and Implicit Self-Appraisal: correlations with pre-post competitionchangein swimmers’ ISP
  • Declared self-attitudes DID NOT predict performance improvement at World Championship
  • Implict self-appraisal of ability DID, consistent with the theoretical prediction
  • Implict self-appraisal of strength was directly (although weakly) associated with ISP
  • none of declared self-esteem scores were
conclusions cont d
Conclusions cont’d
  • Self-affect is conceptually and meaningfully linked to athletes’ ability to perform at their best
  • Self-affect measurement may play an important role in predicting athletic performance at elite level
  • But in order to fulfill this role, predictions should be (a) specific, (b) conceptually driven, and (c) matched to an adequate method of measurement (i.e. implicit rather than declared)
overall conclusions
Overall Conclusions
  • personality effects are likely to be
    • Long term (e.g. converting ability into achievement)
    • Moderating rather than direct (e.g., moderating the effects of circumstances on performance)
  • Situation is more than a source of noise in personality measurement – it is a key ingredient of it: “if… then…” behavioural signatures (Mischel, 2004)
  • Types of situations with psychologically equivalent meaning (e.g., frustration)
    • Must be very specific
    • Theory driven

Epilogue: behavioural signatures ofaggressionnot an aggregate aggression score, but a profile of aggressive responding “if… then…” (Mischel, 2004)

  • Unprovoked attacks - Aggression as an intrinsic choice
  • Retaliatory attacks - i.e. «tooth for tooth»
  • Frustration-driven attacks - lashing out at an obstacle
  • escalation: mastering an aggressive response may / may not translate to its greater use
computer game embedded assessment aidman shmelyov 2002
Computer-game-embedded assessment (Aidman & Shmelyov, 2002)


  • Interaction typesin reverse desirability order
    • Avatar is attacked
    • Avatar’s path blocked
    • Avatar is allowed through
    • Avatar is allowed through with a smiling greeting and extra power)
  • Objectives of the game:
    • reach desired destination
    • score maximum points along the way
    • can be achieved through any combination of:
        • searching for effective expressions
        • searching for efficient routes
        • attacking the hosts
    • player is free to choose the tactics (may be prompted by instruction)


Mimics game

  • Stimulus material: schematized facial universals (Ekman, 1999)
  • Avatar - player controlled expression
  • Hosts - human-like responding to the Avatar’s expressions
  • objective = negotiate a maze-like matrix of hosts for a reward :-)
  • Controllable elementsof expression:
    • mouth
    • eyes
    • eybrows
  • each element can be made:
    • smiling
    • neutral
    • frowning

independently of the other two

mimics measures
Mimics measures
  • rate of unprovoked attacks (aggression as an intrinsic choice)
  • rate of retaliatory attacks (aggression mirroring)
  • frustration-driven attacks (aggressive over-reaction to blockings)
  • threatening: choosing a frowning expression
  • intrapunitive / avoidant responding to aggression, e.g. evasion
  • Overall - 26 measures based on automated standardized observations
unprovoked attacks under peaceful and open instructions
Unprovoked attacks under Peaceful and Open instructions


aggression (Buss-Perry total):


retaliatory attacks under peaceful and open instructions
Retaliatory attacks under Peaceful and Open instructions


aggression (Buss-Perry total):


frustration driven attacks under peaceful and open instructions
Frustration-driven attacks under Peaceful and Open instructions


aggression (Buss-Perry total):


Correlations between Self-reported Aggression and Changes in Mimics parametersfrom Peaceful to Open Instruction (N=37)
selected re ferences
Selected References

Greenwald, A.G., McGhee, D.E., & Schwartz, J.K.L. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: the Implicit Association Test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1464-1480.

Kihlstrom, J. (1999, September). The discovery of the unconscious. Paper presented at the meeting of the Australian Psychological Society, Hobart, Tasmania.

Meagher, B., & Aidman, E. (2004) Individual Differences in Implicit and Declared Self-Esteem as Predictors of Response to Negative Performance Evaluation: Validating Implicit Association Test as a Measure of Self-Attitudes. International Journal of Testing,4 (1),19-42.

Tafarodi, R.W., & Swann, W.B. (1995). Self-liking and self-competence as dimensionality of global self-esteem: initial validation of a measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 65, 322-342.

Tallent R., & Aidman E. (1995). The impact of residential status upon quality of life in elderly women. 1995 APS Conference, abstracted: Australian Journal of Psychology, 47 (supplement), p. 119.

Aidman, E.V. (1999). Measuring individual differences in implicit self-concept: initial validation of the self-apperception test. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 211-228.

Aidman, E. & Carroll, S. (2003) Implicit Individual Differences: Relationships between Implicit Self-Esteem, Gender Identity and Gender Attitudes. European Journal of Personality, 17 (1), 19-37.

Aidman, E., & Shmelyov, A.(2002). Mimix: a symbolic conflict/cooperation simulation program, with embedded protocol recording and automatic psychometric assessment. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments & Computers, 34 (1), 83-89.

Baumeister, R.F., (1999) Low self-esteem does not cause aggression. APA Monitor, 30 (1) , 7.

Baumeister, R.F., Heatherton, T.F., & Tice, D.M. (1993). When ego threats lead to self-regulation failure: Negative consequences of high self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 141-156.