It may not be immediately obvious what a banker has in common with a top athlete. Both face high-pressured situations and are driven by ambition, despite the contrast between the world of sport and life in the city. But a key similarity is that their performance can be hugely affected by emotions, often with far-reaching consequences. A feel-good response to risk-taking or the anxiety of the mental preparation for a sporting event can have a dramatic influence on outcomes.
More will be discovered about athletes and workers, as well as students, families and those with bipolar disorder, through a new research programme, Emotional Regulation of Others and Self (EROS).
Funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, worth £2.1 million over four years, a team of researchers is examining different types of psychology covering areas such as work, social and sports. Research that helps understand emotion regulation and how to change it has clear social and economic value and could enhance well-being and performance.
This type of research is an emerging area and Professor Andy Lane, of the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, is examining the sports side, collaborating with colleagues from contributing disciplines at other institutions. Professor Lane is one of the country’s leading sports psychologists, whose research includes the mental aspects of preparing for marathon running and the stress for footballers taking penalties.
He says: “EROS brings together investigators from a number of psychological and health disciplines to study fundamental and applied questions concerning emotion, regulation of others and self. “Athletes competing in prolonged endurance events experience intense emotions and the extent to which they can regulate emotions to optimal levels can influence goal attainment.” Effective emotion regulation can be vital in high-performance situations such as competitive sports. Former Formula One World Champion Damon Hill has spoken of the huge emotional stress that comes with the title and says how Lewis Hamilton’s success proves he has a great deal of mental strength.
For many sportsmen and women, their efforts to achieve the right mental state before they compete could be using up the very energy sources they need to put into their performance.
Professor Lane has already examined emotion self-regulation during prolonged cycling performance, looking at how cyclists who experience unpleasant mood states during performance would concurrently experience a depletion of physiological resources due to unsuccessful regulatory efforts.
Results from athletes participating in a four-hour cycling performance revealed interesting findings. He says: “Unpleasant mood was associated with a significant increase in ventilation rate during the middle and later stages and reduction shortly before volatile exhaustion, suggesting that earlier emotion-regulation efforts were costly.
“By contrast, among individuals reporting positive mood, ventilation rates were lower during exercise and increased sharply before exhaustion. Athletes who maintained positive mood states during performance were able to increase efforts to achieve performance goals.”
These findings will link in with fellow researchers’ suggestions that ‘feel good’ emotions from successful speculations led to greater risk-taking during the financial crisis. High risks sparked the downward economic spiral resulting in the credit crunch.
Evidence also shows people who have to spend a large part of their day expressing emotions they don’t actually feel often end up exhausted. Exercising emotional control can use up energy resources as much as exercising physical control. EROS will look at how environments and people shape moods and emotions, with a view to using their finds to make recommendations such as how coaches can get the best out of athletes and how bosses can create a productive workplace.
With researchers testing the effectiveness of several interventions for promoting good or ‘healthy’ ways of regulating emotion, it’s possible that this work will have significant benefits for the future.