The inverted-U hypothesis Essay Paper 5 pages


It has been established that competitive state-anxiety normally follows a certain pattern of one-sided feelings of anxiety as well as inadequacy that combines with increased arousal of automatic nervous system (Fazey, 2008). Accordingly, the theory of Inverted U. hypothesis was formulated to explain this aspect, and it is widely applied in sports psychology. Inverted U. hypothesis a theory that suggest that there is a relative amount of anxiety and arousal that triggers one to perform higher- extremely little arousal or anxiety and too much arousal or anxiety will lead to poorer performance. This present paper briefly discusses the Inverted U. hypothesis in sports psychology.


Until presently, the traditional Inverted theory had been the key model employed by sports psychologists to explain the arousal-performance relationship. Nevertheless, various sport psychology researchers have criticized this relationship, and the modern trend is a change towards a higher multidimensional perspective of arousal-anxiety and its impacts on performance (Fazey, 2008).

The inverted U. hypothesis is applied in sports which suggest that performance enhances as levels of arousal rise to a peak point, beyond which it reduces. In other words, this implies that minimal excitement and stress related to performing in public or competition can have positive impacts, but a condition that is extremely stressful is detrimental. Similarly, the optimum levels differ between individuals doing the same activity and for the same individual doing different activities (Pascazzi, 2005). Optimum levels of arousal tend to be reduced for highly complicated functions.

Additionally, the theory states that performance enhances with high levels of arousal up to a peak point beyond which additional arousal produce a detrimental impact on performance (Fazey, 2008, p234). Therefore, athletes or people in sports may perform poorly because they are under or over aroused. The theory is qualitative and thus, does not try to qualify the linkage between performance and arousal. The basic principle of the theory is that arousal or anxiety is one-dimensional, and there is, as a result, a difference between arousal indicators; this is not always the case.

Competitive state-anxiety mainly follows a series of subjective inadequacy and tension feelings, combined with heightened autonomic nervous system arousal. The duration and intensity of anxious state alternates depending on the amount of depressing stimuli the athlete is exposed to, and the duration of subjected threat generated by the stimuli. Initially, it was believed that the relationship between arousal and performance was a complex Inverted U. theory, for instance, the best performance can be achieved with an average level of arousal. This is to mean that extremely low arousal level or extremely high arousal level results to poor performance (Schnabely and Wagner, 2008).

One of the earliest approaches that tried to explain the connection between performance and arousal was the Inverted U. theory. The hypothesis states that increased arousal led to increased performance, but if arousal heightens, performance deteriorates. This is to say that, as stress starts to build a person still feels courageous in his capacity to control it and thus, performance improves. Moreover, if the stressor became extremely influential, an athlete begins to doubt his capability to cope with it, and thus performance declines. Even though, this theory provided some reasons as to why performance declined when athletes felt stress, the theory failed to account for variations in athletes’ performance when exposed to similar stressor (Reeve, 2008).

Researchers tried to account for variations in performance of people through the concept of IZOFs (individualized zones or areas of optimal functioning). According to the theory, each person has a peak pre-performance anxiety level. However, if an individual’s pre-performance anxiety occurs outside the IZOF area, whether too low of too high, the performance declines. IZOF is determined by frequently measuring performance and anxiety or through recall of anxiety level of an athlete before the peak performance.

In fact, researchers suggest that IZOFs are significant predictors of performance than the inverted U. theory. Although this is a useful model than the inverted U. theory, it still does not explain the main factors that account for personal variations in performance among athletes, (Vestman and Eden, 1992).

Some researchers suggest that the observed difference between unsuccessful and successful athletes may result from athlete’s cognitive interpretation or perception of their states of anxiety. According to reversal hypothesis arousal is described in numerous ways depending on the athlete’s present state. In a state of telic, athletes concentrate on a goal, therefore, interpret the resulting arousal as anxiety. On the contrary, paratelic suggests performers concentrate on their behaviour and thus interpret their resulting arousal as excitement.

People can shift from one state to another faster and therefore, shift the interpretation, of the arousal or anxiety, they experience which, as a result affect, their performance. This theory tries to incorporate both cognitive and physiological aspects in its explanation of the linkage between anxiety and performance, but does not describe their relationship with performance (Reeve, 2000).

Multidimensional theory of anxiety enhanced the reversal hypothesis inclusion of physiological and cognitive factors. In this approach, cognitive anxiety (the primary tenet, which is concerned with impacts of failure), had indicated a negative linear connection with the performance. Similarly, self-confidence (a distinct cognitive aspect) has been found to show a positive linear connection with the performance.

Researchers suggest that competitive anxiety state is higher for amateur athletes in individual sports as compared to team sport athletes. Additionally, players in individual non-contact sport activities have reported reduced anxiety state levels than players in individual contact sports (Fazey, 2008).

Cognitive anxiety exerts a strong impact on performance; this statement is considered to be practical irrespective of the skill level of an individual. Performers in a collegiate football activity were assigned into one of two situations: low situation criticality of high. Whereas somatic anxiety did not vary in the two conditions, athletes in the high criticality situations had higher cognitive anxiety levels.

In addition, the cognitive interpretation a person gives to a situation causes an impact. Researchers have indicated that successful athletes interpret arousal to mean facilitative. A study conducted with an elite team of swimmers found out that intensity levels of anxiety were higher in participants who described their anxiety as deliberative than participants who interpreted their anxiety as facilitative (Pascazzi, 2005).

The observation has proved to be true of basketball and gymnasts. Some researchers have reported that the largest cognitive anxiety predictor to be the years of experience in that the more experience a person had the lower the cognitive anxiety level. This was confirmed by a study conducted with a team of tennis players. Similarly, advanced subjects (participants who had been taking part in sports for a prolonged period of time) indicated intensive facilitative anxiety interpretation than novices. Also, similar outcomes have been reported among categories of elite swimmers perhaps this is as a result of previous experience with coping mechanisms and arousal.

The amount of self-confidence shown by a participant has been found to vary among the novice and elite athletes. A study with a team of tennis players revealed that the experienced performers had significantly increased higher self-confidence levels. The self-confidence indicator as identified by the study is external conditions and perception of preparedness. Further, other researchers reveal that the principal indicator of self-confidence among players is the ability than participants believed they had (Fazey, 2008).

Self-confidence accounts for the largest proportion of difference in performance than somatic or cognitive anxiety, this implies that the most basic quality that elite players have is an increased level of self-confidence which in return may serve as a protective aspect from cognitive anxiety.

Even though, a study conducted focusing on self-confidence and cognitive anxiety provided significant insights into the impact on athletic function, the interaction of such variables with somatic anxiety offers a critical understanding of the true impacts.

A study done by Pascazzi (2005) among a group of about 92 athletes aged between 15 and 35 years old who took part in swimming, track, soccer and field activities, found that those players with higher self-confidence scores, lower somatic anxiety and cognitive anxiety showed an increasingly facilitative of athletic activity. A study conducted comparing athletes participants competing in sports teams (basket ball) with athletes competing in track and field (individual sports) revealed that athletes competing in track and field sports report significantly increased somatic anxiety and reduced self-confidence that athletes in team sports.

In addition, some researchers suggest that genders differences also affect the relationship between self-confidence, somatic anxiety and cognitive anxiety, for instance research reveals that the females had higher somatic anxiety and lower self-confidence scores than males in athletics sport. Similarly, another research revealed that adolescents, irrespective of gender, experienced higher somatic and cognitive anxiety levels and lowers self-confidence level as their opponents ability increased.

In his study Reeve (2008, p56) established that among the males, somatic and cognitive anxiety level was more strongly influenced by their perception of the ability of the opponent and the probability of winning. While female self-confidence and cognitive anxiety are determined by the significant they place on success and their readiness to perform,(


Clearly, inverted U. hypothesis exerts differs on athletic performance. Such impacts vary based on gender, level of experience and sports. Also, in order to facilitate optimal performance by athletic participants, sport psychologists should consider the principle aspects of anxiety such as somatic anxiety, self-confidence and cognitive anxiety.


Fazey, J. (2008). The inverted-U hypothesis: a catastrophe for sport psychology? Leeds, British Association of Sports Sciences.

Pascuzzi, D.L. (2005). The effects of anxiety on gross motor performance a test of the inverted-U hypothesis. Thesis (M.S.) — Western Illinois University, 1975.

Reeve, J. (2000). Understanding motivation and emotion. Fort Worth, TX, Harcourt College Publishers.

Schnabel, C., & Wagner, J. (2008). Union membership and age: the inverted u-shape hypothesis under test. Luneburg, Univ., Inst. fur Volkswirtschaftslehre.

Vestman, M., & Eden, D. (1992). The Inverted-U relationship between stress and performance: is it time to retire An overworked hypothesis? [Tel Aviv], Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Management, The Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration.

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