Helping Athletes meet the Challenge: Determinants of Challenge and Threat Responses
Sammy, Nadine Soraya
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Acute stress has numerous potential consequences for individuals, from their behaviour to their performance on a task. Psychological models like the biopsychosocial model (BPSM) of challenge and threat, the theory of challenge and threat states in athletes (TCTSA) and the integrative framework of stress, attention, and visuomotor performance (IFSAVP) have attempted to explain the variability in individual responses to stress in motivated performance situations. The BPSM proposes that individuals engaged in a task make conscious and unconscious evaluations of the situational demands, such as the required effort, and their personal resources, such as their abilities. These demand-resource evaluations result in relatively different psychological outcomes namely, challenge and threat responses which represent two ends of a continuum. Both the BPSM and the TCTSA suggest that these psychological consequences have corresponding physiological responses allowing for objective measurements of challenge and threat responses. Performance differences have been observed between challenged and threatened individuals across a range of tasks, although motor tasks have been relatively under-examined within this context. Furthermore, as put forward in the IFSAVP, challenge responses are associated with better attentional control compared with threat responses though this has also been under-examined. As challenge responses are characterised by better physiological, performance and attentional outcomes, it is important to understand what determines challenge and threat responses. Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to examine key determinants of challenge and threat responses and to replicate and extend findings regarding performance and attentional outcomes. Four experimental studies were conducted to test proposed determinants and the aforementioned outcomes. Arousal reappraisal and self-efficacy were found to be determinants of challenge and threat responses across both subjective (self-report) and objective (cardiovascular reactivity) measures. Self-control was shown not to influence challenge and threat responses via either measure while situational motivation regulations predicted only subjective but not objective measures of challenge and threat. Importantly, situational motivation regulations also predicted task engagement, a prerequisite of challenge and threat responses. Across all four studies, there were no performance effects and of the three studies which examined attention, there were no attention effects. Descriptive data trends however, indicated a more complex and nuanced relationship between challenge and threat responses and performance and attention. The findings of this thesis develop the BPSM, the TCTSA and the IFSAVP. They also have several other theoretical and practical implications.
Sammy, N., Anstiss, P. A., Moore, L. J., Freeman, P., Wilson, M. R., & Vine, S. J. (2017). The effects of arousal reappraisal on stress responses, performance and attention. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 37(3), 1-11.
PhD in Sport and Health Sciences