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Chapter 12. Arousal-performance Relationship. Dan Landers & Shawn Arent. Chapter Topics. Understand arousal and its effects on performance Understand the influence of situation and individual factors on the arousal-performance relationship

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Arousal-performance Relationship

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chapter topics
Chapter Topics
  • Understand arousal and its effects on performance
  • Understand the influence of situation and individual factors on the arousal-performance relationship
  • Determine and assess arousal levels of individual performers
what athletes say
What Athletes Say

“I love it. That is what keeps me motivated and going. I love the chance. It has a meaning other than just trying to finish good in a week. That I can make history, I love that. That is fun pressure.”

Annika Sorenstam

Professional golfer

Quote given before trying to make history by winning her sixth straight tournament

  • Stressful situations (e.g. competition) can generate such arousal and anxiety that performance often deteriorates
    • “Too tense” (coordination)
    • “Knew I’d blow it” (self-efficacy)
    • “Couldn’t focus” (narrows attention, attend to inappropriate cues)
introduction to arousal
Introduction to Arousal
  • Most critical factor prior to and during performance
  • Body needs to be at optimal level to perform at best
  • Ideal level of arousal should match requirements of specific task and individual
  • Arousal regulation is a major concern among sport psychologists
arousal performance relationship6
Arousal-Performance Relationship
  • Improper levels of arousal can influence
    • Self-talk
    • Muscle tension
    • Coordination
    • Distractibility
defining arousal
Defining Arousal
  • Consists of neural excitation ranging on a continuum from a comatose state to extreme excitement /panic attack
  • Viewed as an energizing function that is responsible for harnessing the body’s resources for intense and vigorous activity
  • Natural and nondirectional state (neither positive nor negative)
  • Synonymous with activation and intensity
    • Use these terms with athletes to avoid the sexual connotations of arousal
measurement of arousal
Measurement of Arousal
  • Physiological measures
    • EEG, skin conductance, HR, BP, muscle activity
  • Biochemical measures
    • Epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol
  • Questionnaires
    • Somatic Perception Questionnaire
    • Activation Deactivation Adjective Checklist
  • Definition – nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it whether pleasant or unpleasant (Selye)
    • When aroused, the body is under stress regardless of whether the cause is something negative like fear or positive like excitement
  • Get “Fight or Flight” autonomic nervous system response
types of stress
Types of Stress
  • Eustress – good stress
    • Associated with one’s ability to use stress in a constructive way (e.g., beneficial to performance)
  • Distress – bad stress
    • Can lead to behavioral problems (e.g., poorer performance) and physical and mental health problems
    • Levels of distress and anxiety are increased by perceptions of uncertainty and inability to control the situation at hand
defining anxiety
Defining Anxiety
  • A negative emotional state or reaction characterized by unpleasant feelings of intensity, preoccupation, worry, and apprehension
  • In sport, most likely to occur when an athlete’s cognitive appraisal perceives an inability to deal with the demands of the situation and dire consequences if fail
types of anxiety
Types of Anxiety
  • Trait anxiety- A general predisposition to perceive many situation as threatening and to respond to them with high anxiety
    • Stable over time
  • State anxiety- An individual’s anxiety at a particular moment (“right now”)
  • Somatic anxiety- Physical component reflecting perception of physiological responses such as heart rate, respiration, and muscle tension
  • Cognitive Anxiety- Thought component (worry, fear, concentration disruption)
unidimensional anxiety measures
Unidimensional Anxiety Measures
  • STAI (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Spielberger et al., 1970)
    • General (non-sport)
    • One form measures trait and one form measures state
  • SCAT (Sport Competition Anxiety Test, Martens, 1975)
    • Specific to sport
    • Measures competitive trait anxiety (CTA)
arousal anxiety performance theories
Arousal/Anxiety-Performance Theories
  • Drive Theory
  • Inverted-U Theory
  • Zone of Optimal Functioning Theory
  • Multidimensional Anxiety Theory
  • Catastrophe Theory
drive theory
Drive Theory

Performance = Arousal x Skill Level

drive theory linear relationship
Drive Theory: Linear Relationship






features of drive theory
Features of Drive Theory
  • Increases in arousal enhance the probability of making the “dominant response”
  • When learning complex skills, increases in arousal impair performance
  • For simple or mastered skills, increases in arousal improve performance
drive theory findings
Drive Theory Findings
  • More likely for gross motor activities (strength, speed), but still limits to arousal levels
  • No support for accuracy tasks
    • free throw shooting, golf putting
  • Little support in sport setting
inverted u theory
Inverted-U Theory
  • Predicts that as arousal increases from drowsiness to alertness there is a progressive increase in performance.
  • Once arousal continues to increase beyond alertness to a state of high excitement there is a progressive decrease in task performance.
task characteristics inverted u
Task Characteristics – Inverted-U
  • The characteristics of the skill or activity influence the arousal-performance relationship
    • Task complexity (simple vs. complex)
    • Decisional demands (low vs. high)
    • Precision/accuracy vs. strength/endurance
    • Fine vs. gross motor
task characteristics inverted u21
Task Characteristics – Inverted-U

Complex Tasks Decision Making Precision/Accuracy Fine Motor

Simple Tasks Low Decision Making Strength/Endurance Gross Motor

inverted u research findings
This theory supported in both lab and field settings

High school basketball

College swimming

College and elite


Inverted-U Research Findings
inverted u critique
Inverted-U Critique
  • Implies that there is one ideal level (moderate) of arousal/intensity for all individuals
  • Optimal arousal varies from individual to individual
  • Hanin’s Individualized Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) theory, which is a variation of Inverted-U theory, addresses this limitation
individual difference factors
Individual Difference Factors

Less Skilled Low Experience Introverted High Trait Anxiety Low Coping Skills

High Skilled Experienced Extroverted Low Trait Anxiety High Coping Skills


izof theory
IZOF Theory
  • Extends inverted-U theory by incorporating individual differences into its framework
  • ZOF is the level of arousal (intensity) that enables an athlete to perform at his/her best
  • Determine individually because ZOF varies from athlete to athlete
    • On the same skill, some prefer low, some moderate, some high
izof theory26
IZOF Theory









izof theory27
IZOF Theory









izof cont
IZOF (cont.)
  • Key is knowing where the ZOF is for each athlete in a given situation and then helping the athlete reproduce this arousal state more consistently
  • If athletes are outside their ZOFs, the outcome is typically poorer performance
  • Need skill at both raising and lowering arousal level (see chapters 15 and 17)
izof theory research findings
IZOF Theory Research Findings
  • Good research and anecdotal support for Hanin’s IZOF extension of inverted-U theory
  • Conclusion: Best to individually determine the optimal arousal level for a given situation
multidimensional anxiety theory
Multidimensional Anxiety Theory
  • Cognitive and somatic anxiety correlate, but are different constructs
multidimensional anxiety theory31
Multidimensional Anxiety Theory
  • Mind and body intertwined, but not completely– thus distinguishes between somatic and cognitive anxiety
  • Cognitive anxiety- thought component (worry, fear, concentration problems)
    • Caused by things such a fear of negative social evaluation, fear of failure, and loss of self-esteem
  • Somatic anxiety- perceptions of bodily symptoms of autonomic arousal such as racing heart, butterflies in the stomach, and muscle tension
    • Results more from a stimulus-response reaction to the physical cues in the environment
hypotheses from multidimensional anxiety theory
Hypotheses from Multidimensional Anxiety Theory
  • Somatic anxiety has a curvilinear relationship to performance and cognitive anxiety a negative linear relationship
  • Cognitive anxiety remains essentially stable prior to competition and somatic anxiety progressively increases
  • Somatic anxiety dissipates once performance begins, but cognitive anxiety can vary because the subjective probability of success can change
multidimensional anxiety theory33
Multidimensional Anxiety Theory

Cognitive state anxiety


Somatic state anxiety





multidimensional anxiety measures
Multidimensional Anxiety Measures
  • SAS (Sport Anxiety Scale, Smith et al, 1990)
    • One somatic trait anxiety scale
    • Two cognitive trait anxiety scales (one for worry one for concentration distraction)
  • CSAI-2 (Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2)
    • Somatic state anxiety scale
    • Cognitive stat anxiety scale
    • Self-confidence scale
multidimensional anxiety theory research findings
Multidimensional Anxiety Theory Research Findings
  • Some support for all hypotheses except the negative linear relationship between cognitive anxiety and performance
  • Meta-analysis of CSAI-2 studies indicates negligible prediction of performance
catastrophe theory
Catastrophe Theory
  • Challenges multidimensional anxiety theory for predicting performance by examining somatic anxiety and cognitive anxiety in isolation
  • Catastrophe theory hypothesizes that the best understanding of the arousal-performance relationship comes from looking at how cognitive anxiety and physiological arousal interact
catastrophe theory predictions
Catastrophe Theory Predictions
  • Low cognitive anxiety = gentle inverted-U relationship between physiological arousal and performance
  • High cognitive anxiety = performance improvement as arousal increases to an optimal threshold, but increases past that point result in a catastrophic drop in performance
  • Low to optimal arousal = positive correlation between cognitive anxiety and performance
  • High arousal = negative correlation between cognitive anxiety and performance
catastrophe theory critique
Catastrophe Theory Critique
  • Need both high arousal and high cognitive anxiety for a major drop in performance
  • Some cognitive anxiety is good providing arousal is not too high
  • Little support for theory, partly because complexity of model makes it difficult to test
  • Practitioner implication: To get peak performance must manage both optimal arousal and cognitive anxiety
how to determine optimal arousal
How to Determine Optimal Arousal
  • Consider how task and person factors interact
  • Compare arousal demands of sport task to athlete’s typical competitive arousal state
    • E.g., low trait anxious athlete with laid back response to competition may need psych-up skills if task demands high activation
  • Look for consistent performance shift from practice to competition
    • If yes, need better relaxation or energizing skills
  • Identify arousal level during best performances (e.g., imagery of past peak performance)
  • Examine arousal before many competitions via questionnaires or physiological measures and compare to each performance outcome (finds ZOF)
signs of under activation

Heavy muscles

Slow reactions

Low heart rate

Low Energy





Not “up”


Signs of Under-activation
signs of over activation

Muscle tightness


Pounding heart

Frequent urination

Butterflies in stomach


Dilated pupils




Negative self-talk

Diverted attention

Focus on wrong things

Signs of Over-activation
arousal regulation strategies
Arousal Regulation Strategies
  • Physiological (Chapter 15)
  • Cognitive (Chapter 17)