Anxiety interpretation

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Winning is the ultimate goal for performance success amongst elite athletes, and approaches to achieve a competitive edge and optimise sporting performances are eagerly sought after. Facilitative interpretation of anxiety symptoms to impending performance is one recognised attribute of individuals of a higher performance status, and empirical support substantiates this relationship (Jones, Hanton, & Swain 1994; Jones & Swain, 1995).

One approach to attaining a more facilitative interpretation of anxiety is through using a combination of psychological skills (Hanton & Jones, 1999a, 1999b; Thomas, Maynard, & Hanton, 2007). Findings emphasise the role of cognitive restructuring strategies, such as goal-setting, to elicit positive interpretations. However, the debate over which psychological skills comprising multi-modal interventions are responsible for the favoured anxiety appraisals remains debatable (Fletcher & Hanton, 2002).

More specifically, recent advancements have identified individual psychological skills which promote positive competitive-anxiety responses (O'Brien, Mellalieu, & Hanton, 2009; Wadey & Hanton, 2007, 2008), yet the mechanisms underlying how and why athletes interpret their anxiety levels as positive are still inconclusive. If athletes can develop their ability to perceive anxiety in a more positive manner, they are more likely to benefit from the accompanied performance advantage.

Anxiety, traditionally believed to be a negative determinant of performance, has now become recognised as a stimulant (Jones & Hanton, 1996). In response to this dual-anxiety response, Jones (1991) argued that the traditional measure of multi-dimensional anxiety, the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2) (Martens, Burton, Vealey, Bump, & Smith, 1990), restricted the measurement of anxiety response to “intensity” levels only; (cited in Jones & Swain 1995). In response, Jones and Swain (1992) developed the modified version of the CSAI-2 in which a directional scale was collaborated. This broadened the approach adopted to measure intensity and perception of symptoms which were believed to mark the presence of anxiety.

In an attempt to explain anxiety interpretation differences, Jones (1995), proposed a model of control, whereby athletes' anxiety interpretation was governed by the confidence in their ability to control behaviour and the environment in which to achieve their goals. The model explains that a more positive expectancy of goal attainment is resultant of perceived control and ability to cope, and this generates a more facilitative interpretation of anxiety. This concept of control stemmed from Carver and Scheier (1988) research, who proposed that an athlete's interpretation relies on their belief of being able to cope with anxiety levels and having the competency to meet the demands of the task. A wealth of research has based findings on Jones (1995) theoretical framework, whereby positive expectancies of goal attainment and facilitative appraisals of anxiety are inextricably wedded (Jones & Hanton, 1999a; Jones & Hanton, 1996; Wadey & Hanton, 2008).

Findings reported by Vealey, Hayashi, Garner-Holman, & GiacobbiVealey et al. (1998) reinforces the connectivity of the components within Jones' model (1995), in that the perception of self-control has been identified as the second most important source of self-confidence for athletes. Sources of self-confidence are vast and well documented (for a review see Bandura 1977, 1986, 1997; Vealey et alVealey, Hayashi, Garner-Holman, & Giacobbi, 1998), and the challenge is to now determine those behaviours which are most conducive to self-confidence increments.

The importance of self-confidence has been well-documented, and as one of the most important attribute to athletes, it also discriminates between elite and non-elite performers (Feltz, 1988). Previous studies have suggested that self-confidence functions as a buffer to experiencing debilitative anxiety levels (Hanton, Mellalieu, & Hall, 2004). Findings reveal that athletes with superior levels of self-confidence consistently reported positive directional interpretations of the experienced anxiety (Jones et al., 1994), which lends partial support to Jones' model (1995). Qualitative research by Hanton et al. (2004) which limited the assessment of strategy use to self-talk, thought control and imagery suggested, suggested that self-confidence ultimately gave rise to a sense of control over athletes' performance. Further, self-confidence appeared to override negative thoughts and encouraged coping expectances; thereby was akin to an internal reassurance mechanism.

Hanton et al. (2004) results also reported that confidence levels were associated with increases in effort and motivation, which allowed a more facilitative perception. This endorsed Eysenck and Calvo's (1992) processing efficiency theory (PET) which proposed that high levels of confidence prevented high levels of cognitive anxiety from impairing performance through promoting motivation and effort investment to ultimately increase concentration levels.

Given that Bandura (1977) believes engaging in behaviour enhances the self-confidence in one's ability of that behaviour, it is plausible to suggest that engaging in effective self-control processes may enhance athletes' perception of their ability to control. The ability to self-control or self-regulate comprises the capability to manage one's affect, behaviour and cognitions to attain goals, and is suggested to be most necessary when faced with challenges or habitual actions are disrupted (Karoly, 1993). According to Karoly, (1993) “self-regulation refers to those processes, internal and/or transactional, that enable an individual to guide his/her goal-directed activities over time and across changing circumstances (contexts)” (p. 25). This is an independent process, and therefore success is most likely to be attributed internally, which according to Weiner (1979) will provide a source of greater motivation and self-confidence.

A central self-regulatory behaviour according to Bandura (1991) is goal-setting. Bandura proposes goal-setting guides individuals' behaviours, cognitions and affects to attain their desired performance standards. In essence, goal-setting provides a self-referenced benchmark against current performance which promotes self-evaluative and positive adaptive behaviour. Goals have also been suggested to enhance athletes' motivation, effort, concentration and self-confidence (Gould, 2006). These subsequent self-reactive responses may therefore be targeted to align current behaviour with desired outcomes and assist in enhancing performance.

Upon attainment of goals, mastery and personal capabilities in sport-specific skills are defined and awareness of success is heightened. Evidently goals maximise individuals' opportunities to experience self-satisfaction, and therefore can function as a prospective pre-determinant of self-confidence. According to Zimmerman (1999), consistent self-regulated learners will assign explicit process and outcome goals, and express elevated self-confidence levels. Given that performance accomplishment is the most superior source of self-efficacy to athletes (Bandura, 1997), this may explain and strengthen the intimacy that has been associated between goal-setting and self-confidence. Synergistically, athletes with greater self-confidence levels have been shown to set more challenging goals and express greater commitment to attaining these goals (Bandura, 1991; Locke & Latham, 1990; Wood & Bandura, 1989).

Bandura (1991) endorses the role of self-confidence as an important element of self-regulation and this has been supported by previous research in sport (Kane, Marks, Zaccaro, & Blair, 1996; Williams, Donovan, & Dodge, 2000). In view of the relationships between self-control, self-confidence and anxiety interpretation; consideration of the self-regulatory processes which are encompassed within goal-setting may help to ‘unmuddy the waters' regarding the prospective underlying mechanisms to anxiety appraisal.

The goal-setting process is facilitated by self-monitoring, which is another sub-function of Bandura's self-regulation theory (1991). Self-monitoring is in essence observing and surveying one's own performance and results (Zimmerman, 2006), and has been positively related to improved physical learning and performance (Martin & Ashnel, 1995; Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1996). Self-monitoring stimulates athletes to self-evaluate and thereby recognise favourable patterns between effective psychological states and successful performance outcomes, which in-turn provides a sense of ‘self-insight'. Furthermore, this may guide behavioural change if performance was impaired or encourage the behavioural repetition if performance was enhanced. Consequently, self-monitoring offers opportunities for self-evaluation towards goal attainment, which reflects its self-diagnostic function. Previously it has been shown that self-monitoring, especially if positive, serves as a source of self-confidence (Bouchard-Bouchard, 1990; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001; Martin & Anshel, 1995). Moreover, the self-monitoring capability of athletes, both individually (Kim, 1999) and as a team (Kim & Cho, 1996), influences corresponding performance expectations and the belief of mastery (as cited in Bechenke, 2002).

Anxiety interpretation is most likely to arise through self-evaluative behaviours. Self-evaluation allows the analysis of the behaviour and accompanied outcomes, and is a subsequent sub-function following self-monitoring. This allows the athlete to determine whether to repeat this behaviour, if self-evaluation was positive, or set in motion a state of corrective change to attain future self-satisfaction, if this judgement was unfavourable (Bandura, 1991). The self-belief in goal mastery proceeds to influence the evaluative and reactive reactions to goal accomplishment or failure. Those of greater self-confidence evaluate failure to reach their goals as a motivator to continue striving. Subsequently they react to reduce the incongruity, by investing more effort and adopting more strategies to enhance the likelihood of goal mastery (Bandura & Cervone, 1986).

Complementary to these findings, self-confident individuals are predominantly more proactive in their self-reactions to goal accomplishment (Bandura, 1991). That is, once their goal has been mastered, they raise the bar further by introducing another challenging goal, which functions to progress performance improvements. Furthermore, Carver and Scheier (1986, 1988, 1998) have examined the means by which self-confidence effects self-regulatory behaviours. Their research reveals that when progression to goal mastery is hindered and becomes difficult, those with greater self-confidence in coping will react to anxiety levels positively, with renewed effort and concentration to their aspirations (as cited in Hanton et al. (2004).

Jones and Hanton (1996) examined competitive anxiety symptoms with regard to goal attainment expectancies prior to competition. Findings demonstrated that competitive swimmers with positive expectations of goal-attainment found their anxiety symptoms were more facilitative to performance, than athletes with negative or uncertain goal expectations. These findings reflect equivalent reports by Hanton and Jones (1999a). This is in align with Jones' (1995) control model and re-iterates the beneficial responses to positive goal-expectancies, which may be underpinned by higher self-confidence levels and consequent positive anxiety appraisals. Therefore, appropriate goal-setting is also paramount to optimise athletes' expectancies of goal attainment to favour positive anxiety interpretation.

Bandura (1991) suggests that acknowledgement of performance progress, influences individuals' forthcoming behaviour, stimulates further goal setting and evaluative responses; thus goal-setting is a stimulant for other behavioural responses and appears to be a pivotal facet of self-regulation. Therefore there appears to be an overlapping effect between self-regulatory processes and self-confidence, in particular the goal-setting process. The strong predictive effects between goal-setting and self-confidence lends reasons to propose that goal-setting may be the most dependable predictor of self-confidence amongst other self-regulatory processes; this as yet remains indefinite.

Evidence lends support to the role of goal-setting and positive interpretations of anxiety. Wadey and Hanton (2008) and O'Brien et al. (2009) endorse the beneficial competitive-anxiety response with gaol-setting interventions. Wadey and Hanton (2008) has hinted that self-confidence and associated effort, motivation, concentration and perceived control may play a role to explain the positive anxiety response and goal-setting, however the mediatory role of self-confidence is as yet unconfirmed.

Although Jones' explanatory model (1995) and aforementioned research endorse the role self-confidence and perception of self-control plays in anxiety appraisal, they fail to acknowledge, identify and explain which self-regulatory behaviours allow self-confidence to override debilitating interpretations and why this relationship exists. In review of the literature five key self-regulatory processes have emerged and were measured using the Self Regulation in Sport Questionnaire (SRSQ); goal-setting, regulatory-responses, self-monitoring, self-awareness and self-talk. This was the first study to use this questionnaire and assess self-regulation, as a holistic process and differentiate between the key processes.

The sources of self-confidence have been extensively reported, yet the variances by which self-regulatory processes contribute to self-confidence have not been compared. This questionnaire will allow the specific sub-functions of self-regulation that may enhance self-confidence to be determined.

Previous studies report that elite athletes self-regulate more than their non-elite counterparts (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2001; Anshel & Porter, 1996), which is not surprising considering elites' superior use of psychological skills (Thomas, Murphy, & Hardy 1999).,. Therefore the self-confidence derived from these skills is likely to vary, thus competitive level is an important variable to control in this study.

The Finally, the role of goal-setting, conceptualised as a self-regulatory behaviour , as a regulatory behaviour on anxiety interpretation willcan be investigated, which extends Hanton et al., (2004) study by including goal-setting as a strategy. . In essence, this study serves to discover if engaging in goal-setting has an indirect effect on anxiety interpretation by enhancing self-confidence. Specifically, it proposes to discriminate which facets of self-regulation are utilised to foster self-confidence, and thereby potentially mediate the competitive anxiety response interpretation.

It is hypothesised that goal-setting will be the superior predictor of self-confidence, which in turn will mediate the relationship between goal-setting behaviours and anxiety interpretation. It is expected that self-confidence will be a positive partial mediator of facilitative anxiety interpretation.