Sunday, March 1, 2015

Inverted U Theory

Mental arousal plays a significant role in achieving optimal performance and results through training. Sports psychologists have devised a theory revolving around the relationship between arousal and performance. It has been hypothesized that every individual has his or her own “optimal” level of arousal, which is necessary for peak performance.

The Inverted-U Theory image below displays the parabolic curve representing pressure/arousal vs. performance.  As you can see this theory supports that there is a point in arousal level that warrants optimal performance. Although this differs from person to person there are still small factors that influence performance levels.  

According to the model, peak performance is achieved when people experience a moderate level of pressure. Where they experience too much or too little pressure, their performance declines, sometimes drastically.

There are ‘Four Influencing Factors’ that determine the optimal level of performance. These factors include:
  1. Skill Level
  2. Personality
  3. Trait Anxiety
  4. Task Complexity

1. Skill level greatly determines the level of success an individual will experience with a given task. The higher skill level individuals will have more experience and therefore will have less stress, anxiety, and pressure during the task. For example this could be a NFL Linebacker performing a barbell back squat. The high skill level people will find exercises like this to be second nature and will require little thought and more focus on execution. Find your strengths and improve your weaknesses.

2. Personality affects performance by extroverts tending to perform better in high-pressure situations while introverts tend to perform better during a low-pressure situation. Those extroverts are able to focus on performing the task even though there are many on-going distractions. An example would be any professional performing on a big stage. How would you respond?

3. Trait Anxiety is the level of self-approval the individual experiences during the situation. For example, people who are confident tend to perform better under pressure while those who are too concerned about failing a task are more apt to fail. Confidence is key and is associated with more positive thinking individuals.

4. Task Complexity is the level of attention and effort necessary to complete a task successfully. It tends to be that most people perform basic activities more efficiently in high-pressure situations and better perform complex activities in more low-pressure situations.

So how can this be used in your daily life?

For exercisers; exude confidence, focus on improving your skill level, and choose your tasks/exercises wisely. Although many factors can influence your performance, try to monitor your arousal levels during exercise and see what works best for you.

Blog post by Evan Healy CSCS.

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