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Conceptual Models Of Momentum Psychology Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

One of the earliest cited definitions of momentum was provided by Iso – Ahola and Mobily (1980) who stated momentum is a gained psychological power which may change interpersonal perceptions and influence physical and mental performance. Taylor and Demick (1994) suggest momentum is, at the same time, one of the most commonly referred to and least understood phenomena in the realm of sports.

Early studies of momentum resulted in possibly erroneous conclusions (Taylor and Demick, 1994) this may be due to the unsuitable methodologies and results gained from interpretation. For example Iso – Ahola & Mobily concluded that in a racquetball tournament, the psychological momentum of winning the first game propelled these players to victory. Earlier research focused on archival data, particularly in tennis, focusing on the patterns of winning/losing of games and sets. Weinberg and Jackson (1989) demonstrated that prior performance success leads to future winning; however Silva et al. (1988) suggested that results may simply be due to the greater ability of the performer winning the first set and this may be a more probable explanation rather than momentum.

The term ‘hot hand’ or ‘hot streak’ was introduced and relates to the relationship between momentum and performance . Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky (1985) defined the “hot hand” in basketball as the belief that during a particular period a player’s performance is significantly better than expected on the basis of a player’s overall record. For example, is a basketball player makes 50% of their shots, this player will score 4 shots in a row which is described as the “hot hand” or “hot streak”. Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky (1985) found no evidence that runs of sequential success by professional basketball players occur more often than completely random performance. There is little literature that conclusively provides evidence that hot hand exists in golf (Clark, 2005) and tennis (Klaasen & Magnus, 2001). These studies used archival and sequential data to formulate their theories; perhaps an approach looks closer at the individual’s experience of hot hand or streak to gain a richer understanding of the concept.

Conceptual Models

Mack and Stephens (2000) suggest the failure to obtain a relationship between momentum and performance has resulted in models which identify momentum separately from athlete’s performance. Experimental studies have generally failed to find a relationship between momentum and performance (Gilovich et al, 1985; Shaw et al, 1992). Three theoretical models have been proposed to explain how psychological momentum influences performance (Vallerand et al., 1988; Taylor & Demick, 1994; Cornelius, Silva, Conroy, & Petersen, 1997.)

The first theoretical model looking to explain this was the Antecedents – Consequences Model of psychological momentum. (Vallerand et al., 1988) Perreault et al., (1998) suggests one of the major contributions from this model is that Vallerand et al noted previous research examining the psychological momentum – performance relationship often fails to distinguish between psychological momentum being the cause of successful performance and it being the effect of successful performance. Vallerand et al. suggests that psychological momentum results in feelings of goal progression, self confidence, motivation and energy (Cox, 2006) Furthermore Vallerand et al. suggests that the influence of psychological momentum on performance is further affected by personal (i.e. skill, motivation, anxiety levels) and situational variables (i.e. task difficulty) Vallerand et al. predicts that experiencing positive momentum would enhance performance however experiencing negative momentum would be detrimental to performance.

In contrast, the Projected Performance Model (Cornelius et al, 1997) proposed that psychological momentum that psychological momentum has little effect on performance and is considered a mere performance label. The model suggests that positive and negative momentum is likely to be the result, rather than the cause of performance changes, According to the model there are two constructs that influence performance, positive inhibition and negative facilitation. Positive inhibition relates to negative changes in performance due to’ coasting’. Furthermore, negative facilitation occur following a negative performance, returning to be more motivated and increased effort.

The most comprehensive of these models is Taylor and Demick’s (1994) Multidimensional Model of Momentum in Sport (Mack & Stephens, 2000; Mack et al, 2008). Taylor and Demick note that previous conceptualisations of momentum lack precision and a clear process involved, not taking into account the important role that emotional, physiological, behavioural, social and environmental factors play in development in momentum. Taylor and Demick propose that momentum is defined as “a positive or negative change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behaviour caused by an event or series of events that will result in a commensurate shift in performance and competitive outcome” (p. 54).

The multidimensional model is composed of six critical elements to the development of momentum: (a) a precipitating event; (b) changes in cognition, affect, and physiology; (c) change in behaviour; (d) change in performance; (e) opponent reactions; and (f) a change in the immediate outcome. There occurrences are presently termed the “momentum chain” (Taylor & Demick, 1994). Kerick et al. (2000) suggests the major advantage of the model is that the ‘momentum chain’ offers opportunity to carry out empirical testing. The model allows the reader to view the process of the model as it illustrates the causes, processes and outcomes of momentum.

Precipitating Event or Events

Cox (2002) notes the key element is the precipitating event that leads to the momentum chain. The same event however, may trigger the momentum chain for one person but not another (Taylor & Demick, 1994). Precipitating events are recognised as be a dramatic event i.e. an ace, unforced error or break of serve in tennis, Potential influencing factors include competitive structure, self – efficacy, perceptions of control and cognitive schemas and behavioural response to these situations (Vallerand et al., 1988; Miller & Weinberg, 1991; Silva et al., 1992). Experienced athletes are able to recognise and act upon precipitating events more effectively and are more likely to take advantage of precipitating events and avoid the occurrence of negative momentum (Cox, 2006). Allard and Burnett’s (1985) research supports the relationship between experience and momentum indicating the difference in perception and processing may be due to more clearly defined schemas that enable more efficient and rapid information processing due to experience and therefore more effective cognitive strategies and behavioural responses to momentum.

Changes in Cognition, Affect and Physiology

Taylor and Demick (1994) suggest the precipitating event may produce alterations in several areas of cognition and a central change in cognition for momentum is self efficacy. A change in self-efficacy is important because it has been documented as a “strong and consistent predictor of individual athletic behaviour” (Cox, 2006, p. 106). It is suggested that precipitating events act to enhance or inhibit an individual’s self efficacy. Mack and Stephens (2000) found that the precipitating event influenced the individual’s belief in their ability to successfully complete the task at hand with participants in the negative momentum group reporting much lower levels of self efficacy than the positive momentum group.

Affect refers to the alteration in cognitions that generates a change in arousal. Positive cognitions will generate positive affect (e.g. happiness) and negative cognitions will result in negative affect (e.g. frustration) (Taylor & Demick, 1994). Mack and Stephens (2000) found participants experiencing positive outcomes had significantly more positive thoughts though participants experiencing negative outcomes had significantly more negative thoughts and feelings, suggesting that momentum is more likely to occur during a positive cognitive state.

Similarly, Taylor and Demick (1994) discuss that precipitating events produce changes in physiological arousal; these include heart rate, respiration and adrenaline. Martens (1977) states athletes cannot optimally perform tasks if they are not physically primed to do so. In order for positive momentum to occur, there must be psychological shift towards the optimal level of arousal (Taylor & Demick, 1994).

Change in Behaviour

The next phase of the chain is the manifestation of the previous intrapersonal changes (cognitive, affective and physiological). These alterations in observable behaviour will now be evident and consistent with the direction of the changes that occurred earlier in the momentum change, the nature of changes is dependent on the valence of the momentum and the athlete’s level of arousal. (Taylor & Demick, 1994)

Change in Performance

A subsequent change in performance will occur resulting from the previous changes in the chain. The momentum chain that results in positive momentum will exhibit an increase in performance and the momentum chain that leads to negative momentum will cause a decrease in individual performance (Taylor & Demick, 1994).

Opponent Factors and Immediate Outcome

Taylor and Demick (1994) propose that sports with head – to – head competition, there may be an interactive influence on competitive outcome. They suggest for momentum to have a significant impact on competitive outcome, positive momentum would occur for one athlete and negative momentum would occur for the opposing athlete. The immediate outcome is described as the success or failure whilst experiencing momentum, dependant on how opponents respond, increased performance should result in a positive change in immediate outcome (Cox, 2002).

Testing Taylor and Demick’s (1994) Multidimensional Model of Momentum.

Taylor and Demick (1994) presented initial support for the first stage of their model, analysing Tennis matches at the US Open Championships. Taylor and Demick used questionnaires to identify spectator’s interpretations of precipitating events during professional tennis matches. Five matches were then videotaped during and each occurrence of the precipitating events was recorded. Results revealed significantly more positive precipitating events and fewer negative precipitating events for winning players. However the relationship between spectator’s interpretations and participating tennis players perception were not tested. The findings of Burke et al. (1997) and Burke et al. (2003) tested the consistency between spectator and athlete perceptions of psychological momentum and they found low to moderate levels of agreement between perspectives.

It can be argued that the precipitating events identified by spectators may differ considerably to those perceived by participating tennis athletes (Crust & Nesti, 2006; Jones & Harwood, 2008). This questions the application of this model when using questionnaires and also when working with spectators and athletes, close examination is needed between the spectators and athletes perceptions to achieve accurate findings.

Mack and Stephens’ (2000) study provided additional support for Taylor and Demick’s Multidimensional of Momentum in Sport. The study aimed to examine the first three stages of the model in a basketball shooting task which their self efficacy, affect, arousal and degree of persistence were assessed. Results revealed the positive momentum group had very positive thoughts and feelings while the negative momentum group had fairly negative thoughts and significantly lower levels of situation-specific self-efficacy. It was concluded that a precipitating event did lead to corresponding changes in cognition and affect which supports predictions made in Taylor and Demick’s (1994) model but suggests further research is needed to examine the cognitive changes that may influence the potential momentum chain. Thought this may support the model, thoughts and feelings were measured via a three point grid divides into positive, neutral and negative feelings, however nothing was specifically asked to gain a richer understanding. Likewise momentum was measured via a classification of three stages successfully scoring a shot, missing a shot and moving onto the next stage. It was perceived that scoring and moving onto the next stage was positive momentum and missing consecutively was negative momentum. Thoughts and feelings of the participant were ignored at this point.

A study was conducted by Mack et al. (2008) that offers further support to the early stages of Taylor and Demick’s (2004) momentum model. The purpose of the study was to examine the effects precipitating events have on individuals’ cognitions. A quantitative method was undertaken using 105 participants creating a head to head shooting competition to stimulate momentum followed by a questionnaire to assess their self efficacy levels. Results showed that winners of the initial game believed they were likely to win the following game and possessed positive moment. Losers on the other hand were uncertain of winning the succeeding game, had no momentum and didn’t feel they performed up to their ability. Mack et al. (2008) believes these results provide support for Taylor and Demick’s model of momentum regarding the perception of possessing positive and negative momentum. They also suggest precipitating events might be a critical factor in the generation of momentum and that their results support stage one and two of Taylor and Demick’s model.

Qualitative research: The need for a new approach

Analysing previous research it is clearly evident that there are gaps within research that need to be investigated in order to generate a greater understanding of the concept, preceding research of psychological momentum is significantly dominated by quantitative methods of study. Crust and Nesti (2006) reviewed psychological momentum in sport and recognised the need for a new qualitative approach to enable a more comprehensive understand of psychological momentum incorporating the perceptions of those most likely to experience psychological momentum. Gratton and Jones (2005) state qualitative methods provide understanding, meaning and description whilst providing much richer information.

A greater understanding was gained into other related ‘subjective experiences’ such as flow, this understanding was achieved by starting with the athletes themselves (Crust & Nesti, 2006). “Csikszentmihalyi (1975) used qualitative methods to develop rich accounts of flow that has eventually led to well established dimensions of flow” (Crust & Nesti, 2006: 6). This approach could be used to further the understanding of psychological momentum. The importance of this new approach is stated by Crust & Nesti (2006):

“While such qualitative approaches have potential limitations such as the use of small samples, interpretive bias and retrospective data collections; they offer a view on the human experience which is essential if a greater understanding of subjective experiences such as flow and psychological momentum is to be achieved” (pg. 7)

This statement underpins the importance of this new qualitative approach to research of psychological momentum. Crust and Nesti (2006) suggest researchers need to explore the phenomology of the experience, without this understanding of an athlete’s perspective it will be difficult to establish a clear conceptualisation. They continue to state the use of case studies, in depth open ended interviews, collecting rich, descriptive data would allow a greater understanding of the lived experience and potentially the cognitive and affective processes involved in experiencing psychological momentum (Crust & Nesti, 2006). Furthermore, using various checking procedures will ensure validity and reliability, encompassing member checking and analyst triangulation to reinforce findings. (Participant verifying the researcher’s summary and conclusions) Qualitative methods offer an in-depth understanding into a person’s experiences. They allow the reader to locate the meaning in people’s lived experiences and to provide vivid descriptions nested in a real context (Miles & Huberman, 1994).

To enable a more comprehensive understanding of psychological momentum Crust and Nesti (2006) state researchers should A) develop a clearer conceptualisation of psychological momentum. B) Examine athlete’s perceived experiences of psychological momentum. C) Explore specific cognitive, affective and behavioural changes with experiencing psychological momentum. D) Use collected evidence to critically evaluate the three current conceptual models of psychological momentum. Following these guidelines will be critical in the development of understanding this concept.

From the proposal of Crust and Nesti (2006) to apply a new approach to the research of psychological momentum, Jones and Harwood (2008) conducted a study with the aim to identify and examine perceptions of psychological momentum from the perspective of competing players in association soccer. The purpose was to develop a clear understanding of how psychological momentum is perceived, developed and managed within the context of team competition.

Using a qualitative method, multiple, in depth, semi – and unstructured interviews in combination with a comprehensive member check were conducted on 5 individuals discussing their experiences of psychological momentum. Member checking was used to improve the authors understanding and results but also to allow the participants the chance to question interpretations and other explanations. This strengthens the reliability of the data collected. The findings of the study suggested a range of triggers initiated perceived momentum such as confidence and opponent factors. The findings supported Taylor and Demick’s (1994) model that suggested opponent for momentum to have a considerable impact, one athlete would experience positive momentum and negative momentum to occur to the opposing competitor. Both the multi-dimensional model of momentum (Taylor & Demick, 1994) and the antecedents-consequences model of psychological momentum (Vallerand et al., 1988) note that positive perceptions of psychological momentum enhance subsequent performance, supporting findings of Jones and Harwood (2008).

Jones and Harwood (2008) suggest it is important to acknowledge psychological momentum is an individual phenomenon. They note it is important that the triggers of perceived psychological momentum are dependent on the individual athlete with some individuals perceiving events in a more positive and some in a more negative light. This will be important for when looking at psychological momentum with a qualitative approach. Further study is needed to confirm the study findings and should establish links between perceptions of psychological momentum and the outcomes of psychological momentum (Jones and Harwood, 2008)

In summary, despite the complex and elusive concept within sport psychology, a pathway has been developed from the work of Crust and Nesti (2006) to enable a more comprehensive understanding of psychological momentum. Through the study of Jones and Harwood (2008) a clearer conceptualization has been made leaving the way for future research to develop this further.

Aims and Expectations

Following the study and consideration of previous literature, the purpose of this study is to gather rich information into the perceptions of psychological momentum in individual golfers and their experience of the phenomenon. It seeks to provide further knowledge in the area via a qualitative approach as recognised by Crust and Nesti (2006). Qualitative methodology is a means of studying the subjective experience of the individual, thereby offering a detailed description of how one perceives, creates, and interprets one’s world (Chandle, 2005). Furthermore the study aims to identify and examine a golf specific perspective of these experiences and perceptions of psychological momentum, particularly in terms of understanding how momentum is facilitated and how it develops.

It is anticipated that some similarity may exist in terms of a range of triggers that initiate perceived psychological momentum within golf and other sport. It is also anticipated that the thoughts and feelings will differ between the experience of positive and negative momentum, with the immediate outcome of positive momentum being positive and the outcome of negative momentum being negative with relation to performance.


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