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Optimism, Explanatory Style, and Athletic Performance Mindy Newquist Introduction The variety of attributional models that have attempted to describe how we explain our own outcomes, and those of others, continue to find meaningful realworld applications. One such model, based on research from experimental social and clinical psychology, depressive attributional style, has fostered a large number of research studies. By definition, depressive attribution style is related to prolonged exposure to uncontrollable aversive events, which result in motivational, cognitive, and behavioral deficits (Schill and Marcus, 1998). In lay terms, it is “learned helplessness.” This form of „helplessness‟ occurs when individuals believe positive outcomes or the avoidance of aversive consequences, is unobtainable (Seligman, 1990). Research has shown that depressive attribution style is strongly related to depression (Seligman, Abramson, Semmel, & von Baeyer, 1979; Metalsky & Joiner, 1992). The classic pattern of depressive attributional style involves an individual explaining their negative outcomes (failure) as internal (one‟s own fault) versus external (the environment‟s fault); as stable (unchanging) versus unstable (variable); and as global (happening all the time across all situations) versus specific (happening one time in a specific situation) (Schulman, Seligman, & Amsterdam, 1987). Conversely, an individual with an optimistic attributional style will tend to interpret negative outcomes (i.e., failure) as due to external, unstable, and specific factors (Peterson & Seligman, 1984). Researchers believe that attributional style can help provide a better understanding of behaviors and consequences that affect one‟s performance and actions (Peterson, 1990). Tests of this relationship have spanned a wide variety of achievement settings including academic, athletic, and work settings. Seligman and Schulman (1986) conducted a study on life insurance sales agents who were viewed as having an optimistic attribution style. Optimistic sales agents were shown to stay at the company longer and to outsell their pessimistic counterparts. Additional research, using the Attribution Style Questionnaire (ASQ) to measure optimism, has shown relations between optimism and performance in such sports as swimming, soccer, and baseball (Peterson, Semmel, von Baeyer, Abramson, Metalsky, & Seligman, 1982; Rettew & Reivich, 1995). More specifically, Seligman, NolenHoeksema, Thornton, and Thornton (1990) administered the ASQ to UC-Berkley swimmers and had the swimmers swim their best event. Upon finishing, the swimmers were given a false time that led them to believe they swam slower than their actual performance. The swimmers were next asked to repeat the event. The results showed optimistic swimmers used the negative feedback to motivate their actions and swim significantly faster on their second trial, whereas pessimistic swimmers used the negative feedback to further depress their actions, resulting in slower times. At the team level, Gordon and Kane (2001) conducted a study analyzing optimism and performance in the game of soccer. Like Seligman et al. (1990), they also distributed the ASQ. A total of eight games were videotaped and coded for analysis. For each half of the eight soccer games, the following statistics were recorded: fouls, shots on goal, goals, and passes attempted and completed. The data revealed a highly significant positive relationship between optimism (ASQ scores) and performance. Consistent with findings from Seligman et al. (1990), the performance of pessimistic soccer players varied as a function of the teams‟ performance (i.e., when the team was winning these players performed well, but their performance was worse in losing matches). However, there was little variability among the optimistic players (they performed at a high level across both wins and losses. The preceding experiments support the hypothesis that people with an optimistic attributional style not only try harder, but may actually enhance their performance after receiving negative feedback. The proposed study, with female collegiate basketball players, will involve a more sensitive assessment of how attributional style affects motivation, and subsequent athletic performance. Smaller time increments (five minute intervals) will be used in the proposed research to provide a more specific method of examining the relationships between explanatory style, motivation, and performance. A variety of different performance measures will be gathered. I predict that the pessimistic athlete, given further negative feedback, will perform consecutively worse, while optimistic performers will incorporate the negative feedback into an enhanced effort to improve their athletic performance. My findings should correlate with similar results found by previous studies from Seligman et al. (1990), Peterson (1990), and Gordon and Kane (2001). Method Participants and Design Approximately 20 females, ranging in age from 18-24, on the University of Minnesota Duluth‟s women‟s basketball team will take part in this study. Participation is voluntary. Procedure Volunteers choosing to be apart of the study will complete the Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ). The ASQ is designed to measure one‟s explanatory style as either pessimistic or optimistic. This will be done prior to the start of the basketball season. Approximately six games will be used in the videotape analysis. Researchers will set up a coding system to view the games in time increments; each time increment will consist of five minutes. Data collected will reflect fouls, turnovers, steals, free throws, rebounds, baskets attempted and made, both two and three pointers, and passes attempted and completed. Once the data has been collected, it will be coded entered for statistical analysis. A ratio will be computed based on the number of passes completed divided by the number of passes attempted by a player. Upon completion of data collection and analysis, the videotapes will be returned to the women‟s basketball coach. After the last game of the season is played, the players will be debriefed. They will be informed of the proposed hypothesis and previous studies leading to the hypothesis. The participants will be told the variables involved. They will also be reassured all data will be kept confidential. No material reward will be given to the participants of this study. Timeline September – October: Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) will be administered. November – December: Tape of basketball games. January: Finish taping games, set up coding system, and code videotapes. February: Continue to review games, and enter data into SPSS 11.0. March: Perform statistical analyses of data and begin research paper. April: Complete research paper and prepare for the Midwest Psychological Association (MPA) presentation. May: Present study at MPA. Budget See enclosed form. Educational Objectives This study is related to a number of educational objectives. It will prepare me for my future education and allow me to gain experience in conducting research. As an aspiring clinical psychologist, performing research will be a substantial part of my graduate training. Also, this study has already sparked a new interest in social psychology for me. If this research genre is anything like I expect, it may help guide me in my career decisions. Relationship to the Professor’s Work In 2001, Gordon and Kane looked at the relationship between optimism and enhanced performance in the game of soccer. Twenty club players at the University of Minnesota- Duluth were given the ASQ at two different times, before games during the season. The researchers reviewed preexisting videotapes of the soccer games, analyzing each half. They recorded number of fouls, shots on goal, goals, and passes attempted and completed. As predicted, Gordon and Kane found positive relationship between optimism and athletic performance. Their data also suggest that optimists maintain motivation and performance during losing games, whereas pessimists‟ performance deteriorates under such circumstances. The proposed study is tied directly to Gordon and Kane (2001). To further our understanding of exactly when shifts in motivation and performance occur, I will be measuring the performance variables in an ongoing manner. If the results yield the expected relationships, this research may become the basis for future studies on attributional retraining. Dr. Gordon has already expressed interest in additional research on this topic. References Gordon, R. A., & Kane, J. M. (2002, February). Explanatory style on the soccer field: Optimism and athletic performance. Poster presented at the 3rd annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Savannah, GA. Metalsky, G., & Joiner, Jr., T. (1992). Vulnerability to depressive symptomatology: A prospective test of the diathesis-stress and causal mediation components of the learned hopelessness theory of depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 667-675. Peterson, C. (1990). Explanatory style in the classroom and on the playing field. In S. Graham & V.S. Folkes (Eds.) Attribution theory: Applications to achievement, mental health, and interpersonal conflict (pp. 53-75). Hillside, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Peterson, C., Semmel, A., von Baeyer, C., Abramson, L., Metalsky, G., & Seligman, M. (1982). The attributional style questionnaire. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6, 287-300. Rettew, D., & Reivich, K. (1995). Sports and explanatory style. In G. M. Buchanan & M. E. P. Seligman (Eds.), Explanatory Style (pp.173-185). Hillside, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Schill, R., & Marcus, D. (1998). Incarceration and learned helplessness. Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 42, 224-232. Schulman, P., Seligman, M., & Amsterdam, D. (1987). The attributional style questionnaire is not transparent. Behavior Research and Therapy, 25, 391-395. Seligman, M., Abramson, L., Semmel, A., & von Baeyer, C. (1979). Depressive attributional style. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 88, 242-247. Seligman, M. E. P., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Thornton, N. & Thornton, K. M. (1990). Explanatory style as a mechanism of disappointing athletic performance. Psychological Science, 1, 143-146. Seligman, M., & Schulman, P. (1986). Explanatory style as a predictor of productivity and quitting among life insurance sales agents. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 832-838. Seligman, M. (1990). Learned optimism. New York: A. A. Knopf, Inc.
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