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Frank L. Gardner

Consistent with the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology’s mission, the current special issue on psychophysiology and neuroscience in sport has brought together a variety of timely papers exploring the relationship between physiological processes and both sport performance and personal well-being. These final thoughts observe patterns noted among the papers in this issue, highlight future research directions, and most importantly, clarify where this emerging technology and its associated procedures currently stand in the evidence-based practice of clinical sport psychology.

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Leonard Zaichkowsky

While clinical psychology has embraced the importance of psychophysiology and neuroscience when considering the client condition, the field of sport psychology has been slower to consider the potential importance of this area for athletic clientele. Therefore, this special issue of the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology was conceptualized and constructed to describe the current state of psychophysiological and neuroscience research and illustrate how clinical sport psychologists may, in the future, use technologies such as biofeedback/neurofeedback and physiological measurement (EMG, EEG, skin temperature, EDR, HR, HRV, respiration, and hormonal responses) with high-level athletes from a variety of sports for both performance enhancement and diagnosis and management of head injury. As Guest Editor of this unique special issue, I have written the present introduction to highlight the issue’s important mission. This introductory paper sets the stage for five informative and cutting-edge articles by leading professionals. In all, the articles cover an array of topics on psychophysiology and neuroscience in sport, such as (a) the theoretical underpinnings of biofeedback/neurofeedback, (b) the empirical application of such approaches, (c) the current state of efficacy with regard to this newer line of research and practice, and (d) the use of fMRI in understanding psychological processes in sport. I hope that this timely special issue provokes many additional questions and advanced research in our collective pursuit to assist athletes.

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Brad D. Hatfield and Daniel M. Landers

An area of inquiry that has largely been ignored in scientific studies in the field of sport psychology/motor performance is the subdiscipline of psychology called psychophysiology. This subdiscipline, which is concerned with inferences of psychological processes and emotional states from an examination of physiological measures, is rich in methodological and theoretical insights that could improve research and practice within sport psychology/motor performance. The current methodological and theoretical issues in psychophysiology are first reviewed and then specifically related to recent sport studies that demonstrate their applicability to the enhancement of both theoretical and applied aspects of sport.

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Bruce Hale, Paul Holmes, Dave Smith, Neil Fowler and Dave Collins

Several years ago Collins and Hale (1997) commented on nonrigorous experimental designs and procedures which typified published research examining the psychophysiology of the imagery process. Conceptual, methodological, and analytical guidelines were offered to improve the quality of future research undertakings. While Slade, Landers, and Martin (2002) have followed some of these suggestions, their recent imagery study examining the “mirror hypothesis” and a theory-expectancy hypothesis with EMG recordings still appears to have some conceptual inconsistencies, methodological flaws, and analytical weaknesses that make their conclusions ambiguous. These concerns are identified, and more suggestions for improved designs are given, in another attempt to improve the quality of the scientific research undertaken in sport psychophysiology.

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Shih-Chun Kao, Chung-Ju Huang and Tsung-Min Hung

The purpose of this study was to determine whether frontal midline theta activity (Fmθ), an indicator of top-down sustained attention, can be used to distinguish an individual’s best and worst golf putting performances during the pre-putt period. Eighteen golfers were recruited and asked to perform 100 putts in a self-paced simulated putting task. We then compared the Fmθ power of each individual’s 15 best and worst putts. The results indicated that theta power in the frontal brain region significantly increased in both best and worst putts, compared with other midline regions. Moreover, the Fmθ power significantly decreased for the best putts compared with the worst putts. These findings suggest that Fmθ is a manifestation of sustained attention during a skilled performance and that optimal attentional engagement, as characterized by a lower Fmθ power, is beneficial for successful skilled performance rather than a higher Fmθ power reflecting excessive attentional control.

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Sean P. Deeny, Charles H. Hillman, Christopher M. Janelle and Bradley D. Hatfield

Electroencephalographic (EEG) coherence was assessed during a 4-s aiming period prior to trigger pull in expert marksmen (n = 10) and skilled shooters (n = 9) over the course of a regulation round of small-bore rifle shooting. Although both groups were highly experienced, the skilled group had lower ability. Given that specialization of cortical function occurs as domain-specific expertise increases, experts were predicted to exhibit less cortico-cortical communication, especially between cognitive and motor areas, compared to the skilled group. Coherence was assessed for three frequency bands (low alpha, 8–10 Hz; high alpha, 10–13 Hz; and low beta, 13–22 Hz) using sites F3, Fz, F4, C3, Cz, C4, T3, T4, P3, Pz, P4, O1, and O2. Compared to the skilled group, experts exhibited lower coherence between left temporal (T3) and mid-line frontal (Fz) regions for low-alpha and low-beta frequencies, lower coherence for high-alpha between all left hemisphere sites and (Fz), and lower coherence between T3 and all midline sites for the low-beta band. The results reveal that, compared to lesser skilled shooters, experts engage in less cortico-cortical communication, particularly between left temporal association and motor control regions, which implies decreased involvement of cognition with motor processes.

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David Collins, Bruce Hale and Joe Loomis

Studies of sport participation that include emotional responses, particularly anger, are frequently flawed because measures consist of associative paper–pencil inventories and archival data. In the present study, startle response (an aversive reflex) was enhanced during an unpleasant emotional state and diminished in a pleasant emotional context. Nonsignificant differences on this dispositional measure between 36 athletes and nonathletes did not replicate findings differing normals and psychopaths (Patrick, Bradley, & Lang, 1993) on emotional responsivity. Similarity was also apparent in experiential aspects of anger responsivity as revealed by the check for differences in attributional style. No significant intergroup differences were found in participants’ responses to realistic situations (termed vignettes), in evaluation of the anger/provocation inherent in the situation, in the reasons attributed to the “frustrater,” or in self-reported intended response. Implications for future sport research on emotional responsivity, anger and aggressive behavior are discussed.

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George W. Lawton, Tsung Min Hung, Pekka Saarela and Bradley D. Hatfield

High levels of athletic performance are frequently attributed to mental states. Evidence for this attribution comes mainly from phenomenological reports of athletes. However, research with elite performers using electrophysiological measures has tracked changes in nervous system activity in real time during performance, which may further understanding of such states. Specific patterns of psychophysiological activity from the cerebral cortex, in the form of event-related slow potentials (SPs), as well as spectral content measured by electroencephalography (EEG), occur in the few seconds of performance (preshot) preparation. We discuss these data. We suggest that the logical structure of research with athletes differs from other psychophysiological research. We emphasize the theoretical mind-body issues and the logical structure of these investigations to suggest directions for future research.

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Stacey Alvarez-Alvarado, Graig M. Chow, Nicole T. Gabana, Robert C. Hickner and Gershon Tenenbaum

The extent to and manner in which psychological states change as a function of physical effort and related physiological responses have been addressed separately in various theoretical frameworks. The authors explored a proposed conceptual scheme examining the relationships among perceived exertion, attentional allocation, and affective responses under different workload domains. Thirty male participants performed an incremental cycling test to assess the progression of rating of perceived exertion, attentional focus, affect, and felt arousal along a parallel increase in heart rate using ventilatory threshold as a reference point. Results revealed that ventilatory threshold acts as a metabolic landmark for the attentional shifts toward aversive sensory cues, sustained increases in perceived exertion, negative valence, and physiological activation. Monitoring the dynamics of perceived exertion, attention, and affect can complement physiological measures for an accurate control of training workloads during exercise prescription.