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Competitive Anxiety & Body Image Discrepancy

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The significance of anxiety and other psychological factors on athletes in competitive environments has been established for years and resulted in a great deal of attention. Competitive trait anxiety specifically has been investigated in numerous studies in more recent years, focusing on its relationship with performance outcomes (Besharat & Pourbohlool, 2011; Finkenberg, Dinucci, James, McCune, Donice, & McCune, Sandra, 1992; Judge et al. , 2016). Researchers have looked into the trait-state relationship of anxiety and evidence points to individuals high in trait anxiety having higher scores of state-anxiety (Hanton, Mellalieu, & Hall 2002). High levels of trait and state anxiety can lead to concentration disruption, attentional biases away from threat, higher cardiac output, and higher peripheral resistance within the body, all of which can be debilitating to performance and cause performance catastrophes (Hanton, Mellalieu, & Hall 2002; Judge et al. , 2016). Traditionally, most empirical work has focused on two questions.

The first concerns the relationship between athletes’ competitive trait anxiety and their anxiety during competition (i. e. , state anxiety). The second centers around the effect of precompetitive state anxiety upon actual performance. In a paper conducted by Judge et. al looking at trait anxiety scores on Powerlifting performance, a weight-class sport similar to weightlifting, they found evidence for increased anxiety scores leading to lower totals in two out of the three lifts in comparison to their best performance than athletes who had lower anxiety scores. However, while researchers have focused on the relationship between trait anxiety and state anxiety and their relationship with performance there has been comparatively less focus on the determinants of trait anxiety. Our paper will create and hopefully answer a third question. That is, we’ll look at what interpersonal factors, like body image, influence athletes’ anxiety scores if at all. Two previous theoretical models have proposed that the competitive context is associated with an athletes’ experience in competition and their personal self-perceptions. First, it was proposed that the effect of competitive stimulus on athletes’ state anxiety is mediated by competitive trait anxiety (Martens, 1977).

Follow up research refined and expanded Martens’ original model to emphasize the reciprocal interaction of personal, environmental, and behavioral variables in competition (Martens, Vealey,& Burton, 1990; Vealey,1990). Vealey (1990) proposed that situational factors interacted with intrapersonal variables (e. g. , trait anxiety) to produce a perception of threat and this perception, in turn, interacts with other intrapersonal factors to influence athletes’ responses. Wong, Lox & Clark (1993) showed support for competitive settings being associated with differences in athlete’s self-perceptions. In an applied environment finding out which intrapersonal variables can lead to greater feelings of anxiety can help practitioners test for and reduce these effects. An under-researched but important intrapersonal variable explored in this paper is body image, which we’ll test with self-discrepancy theory. Body image’s effects have not been covered extensively in athletic environments or in a weight class sport like weightlifting. As sports, and our sample’s weight class sport, specifically deal with intense body fluctuations through gaining or cutting weight an athlete’s perception of their body could be a strong factor in their performance. Although most previous body image discrepancy research hasn’t been conducted on athletes there shouldn’t be a difference in the predicted relationship from the self-discrepancy theory. For example, both ideal and ought discrepancies have been shown to predict both anxiety and dejection (Heppen & Ogilvie, 2003; Higgins, & Hoffman, Martin, 1987).

Furthermore, evidence shows that the ought and feared selves may interact to predict agitation related affect (Carver, Lawrence, & Scheier,1999; Heppen & Olgilvie, 2003; Ogilvie, & Sarason 1987). Specifically, they argued that when people are close to their feared self it serves as the main focus; individuals work to escape or to avoid it and the other selves have little motivational impact until they get further away from it (Carver, Lawrence, & Scheier, 1999). When individuals gain some distance from their feared self and avoidance becomes less important they can focus on approaching the ought self and their distance from it now relates to anxiety effects (Ogilvie & Sarason, 1987). In a weightlifting context athletes who aren’t in a weight class they feel they ought, or don’t look like how weightlifters in that class ‘ought’ to look, might perceive a failure on their part to be competitive and have higher anxiety about a competition against those who are closer to their ought and ideal weights. Or an athlete, due to any number of reasons, can be closer to a self-image that is in line with their feared self also increasing agitation or dejection before competition. For a coach preparing for a competition, or with the aim of increasing confidence in training, it could prove beneficial to examine an athlete’s self-discrepancies. An athlete’s internalized standards, or ‘self-guides’ are more prevalent depending on their discrepancy relationship(Carver, Lawrence, & Scheier 1999) That is, if they are self-ideal driven then their self-guide is promotion and goal focused but if there self-ought driven then their self-guide is prevention and punishment avoidant (Carver, Lawrence, & Scheier 1999; Higgins 1987). Depending on their self-structure an individual can be more willing to accept strategies and ideas that fit within their self-ideal/self-ought drive making it a useful tool for coaches and athletes to be aware of before competition planning (Carver, Lawrence, & Scheier 1999; Higgins 1987). However, due to the strength of the affect the feared self has on both dejection and agitation the priority should be to put distance between an individual’s self and their feared self. Oglive (1987) saw the best predictor of life satisfaction was distance from the feared self and in other studies the importance of pushing away from the feared self is comparable to the need to pull yourself to your ideal and ought guides ( Carver, Lawrence, & Scheier 1999). However, while we predict a relationship between discrepancy scores and anxiety,namely the proximity to the feared and ought selves, we suspect that in an athletic environment sport self-confidence scores will confound the data if not controlled for. There is evidence for self-confidence causing a buffering effect on anxiety and an interpretational effect on the direction (e. g. Challenging or threatening) of the intensity (Mellalieu, Neil, & Hanton, 2006).

In a case study of elite tennis players an intervention to increase self-confidence saw a drop in both cognitive and somatic anxiety (Mamassis & Doganis, 2004). Findings for elite athletes showed self-confidence predicted somatic anxiety facilitative or debilitative direction, in nonelites there was partial mediation for self-confidence on somatic anxiety and that nonelites’ needed high self-confidence and low symptom intensity to have a less debilitating interpretation (Mellalieu, Neil, & Hanton, 2006). In a non-athletic environment, researchers tested if self-esteem buffered anxiety and in each of the three studies when self-esteem was raised anxiety, tested by the State-Trait Inventory or physiological arousal in a shock experiment, was reduced (Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, Rosenblatt, Burling, Lyon, Tesser, 1992). A more recent study by Besharat and Pourbohlool (2011), found that sport-self-confidence had a significant and negative correlation with both cognitive and somatic aspects of competitive anxiety. It is the purpose of this study to test the links between body image discrepancy and competitive anxiety in weightlifting athletes. First, predict that athletes with higher discrepancy scores between their actual and ought selves will have higher trait anxiety scores. Accordingly, we assume the ought-feared relationship and that the actual-ought discrepancy scores won’t be significant if they are relatively close to their feared selves. Lastly, we want to control what could be a powerful confounding variable in sport self-confidence which we believe will mediate the relationship between self-discrepancy scores and trait anxiety. Method Participants 116 competitive weightlifters who have competed in at least one competition and are members of their national sporting association volunteered to be in the study. Unknown demographics and age range with a minimum age of 18. Due to incomplete responses 44 of the surveys had to be removed from data analysis.

Measures: The Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2R The CSAI-2R is considered a specific measure of trait anxiety, i. e. , the tendency to perceive competition as threatening and to respond to such situations with tension or apprehensive feelings. There are 17 items with three subscales; cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and self-confidence. Items are answered on a 4-point scale anchored by not at all, somewhat, moderately so and very much so. Scores range from 10 (low competitive trait anxiety) to 40 (high competitive trait anxiety). This scale has been shown to have strong internal consistency, with alpha coefficients for the subscales ranging from. 79 to. 9, and moderate concurrent validity when measured against the previous Sport Cognitive Anxiety Test with the subscales alphas of. 45,. 62, and -. 55 (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990). Its also shown to be a powerful predictor of state anxiety in both laboratory simulations (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990) and in actual sport competition (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990). Vealey’s Trait Sport-Confidence Inventory (TSCI) The Trait Sport Confidence Inventory was developed to assess how confident athletes generally feel, when they compete in sport. Items on the inventory ask the participants to compare themselves to the “most confident athlete you know”. The inventory consists of 13 items, with no subscale components, utilizing a 9-point Likert scale anchored by 1 (low) and 9 (high). An item of the TSCI reads “Compare your confidence in your ability to perform under pressure to the most confident athlete you know”. Trait sport confidence scores are obtained through a mean score of the 13 items. Global confidence summed scores between 13 and 39 reflect a low level and scores between 91 and 117 signify a high level of overall competition confidence. Global confidence scores in between those extremes represent a moderate level of confidence. Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was measured as. 93 for the TSCI, with test-retest reliability in two studies of. 83 and. 86, respectively (Koehn, Morris, & Pearce, 2013). Body Image Questionnaire Using three separate 15 point visual analogue scales, participants will be asked to indicate (1) how far their current body is from their ideal body, (2) how far their current body is from their feared body, (3) how far their current body is from their ought body.

The visual analogue scales ranged from 0 (their current body is exactly there) to 15 (their current body is extremely far). Body discrepancies were calculated by creating an absolute difference score between the actual score and the ought, ideal, and feared scores (Woodman & Steer, 2011) Procedure: Data will be collected over three months with the survey being sent out through email with a link to Qualtrics for athletes that fit the inclusion criteria. Participants will follow the instructions on the survey and give their informed consent before participating.

Study Design: Online survey delivered through Qualtrics


To test the hypothesis that greater body image discrepancies are associated with higher trait competitive anxiety scores, more specifically athletes who are far from their feared selves will have a significant interaction between their discrepancy scores and trait competitive anxiety when controlling for sport self-confidence, a hierarchical multiple regression analysis will be conducted with trait anxiety as our depended variable. Firstly, we will test how ought-actual discrepancy scores account for the variance in anxiety scores. Self-confidence scores will be entered at part two to test for any controlling influence on the discrepancy-anxiety interaction and we expect to see a partial mediation on the effects of discrepancy scores on anxiety. We will also test for any moderating demographic factors and expect that age and years of experience will have slight but non-significant mediating effects on the relationship.

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Competitive Anxiety & Body Image Discrepancy. (2019, November 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from
“Competitive Anxiety & Body Image Discrepancy.” GradesFixer, 26 Nov. 2019,
Competitive Anxiety & Body Image Discrepancy. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 Dec. 2021].
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