Emotional Intelligence and Exercise Performance

Research has shown that emotional intelligence is related to the emotions experienced before successful and unsuccessful athletic performance, which leads to the hypothesis that mood and personality type may be significant predictors of success in sport. There is also the possibility of using psychological skills to modify one’s feelings and emotions, thus altering the outcome of an athletic event.

Research has demonstrated that people learn from previous emotional experiences, and that they use that information along with current emotional states to choose future actions based on anticipated emotions. For example, an athlete who fails in a certain athletic event or competition may choose a different strategy to avoid the same outcome in the future. Not only will the physical strategy vary, but also the emotional strategy, since the athlete will attempt to regulate his or her emotions in order to achieve a different result.

A new study in September of this year, published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, examined the relationships between self-reported measures of emotional intelligence and memories of emotions associated with athletic performance. The researchers hypothesized that there would be significant differences in emotions before successful and unsuccessful athletic performance, and that pleasant emotions would affect the outcome of both successful and unsuccessful events.

A total of 284 participants were recruited to the study from Hungarian, Italian, and British universities. All participated in regular physical activity ranging from recreational levels to elite athletes. In addition to practicing their regular sports activities, all participants filled out the Emotional Intelligence Scale, a self report on emotional intelligence, as well as the Brunel Mood Scale, a 24-item tool that assesses anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension, and vigor.

Results of the study showed, not surprisingly, that high scores on vigour, calmness, and happiness and low scores on anger, confusion, depression, fatigue and tension were significantly associated with optimal athletic performance. Emotional intelligence was also shown to correlate significantly with memories of emotions in both successful and unsuccessful performance. Interestingly, it appears that emotional intelligence correlates with pleasant emotions even when an athlete’s performance is below personal standards.

Once a discrepancy is identified between current and optimal emotions, this usually initiates an effort to regulate emotions in order to reach optimal performance. Higher levels of emotional intelligence are suggested to help maintain these needed emotions in order to achieve desired goals. An important component of emotional aspect is the idea that it can be learned, and new tools emerging from emotional intelligence research will likely help athletes assess, monitor, and modify their responses to athletic outcomes to help them achieve optimal results.

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