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2010 Grant Recipient: Students' Salivary Stress Responses when Juggling in Two Distinct Motivational Climates

Summary of Progress

The purpose of this study was to examine college students’ stress responses, as measured by salivary cortisol, in a caring/task-involving motivational climate relative to an ego-involving motivational climate.  To do this, participants took part in a 30-minute instructional juggling session where both instructors and confederates assisted in the creation of the intended climate (i.e., either caring/task- or ego-involving).  As a secondary assessment, motivational responses as measured by self-reported enjoyment, effort, anxiety, and self-confidence were examined in relation to the perceived motivational climate.  It was hypothesized that the ego-involving climate relative to the caring/task-involving climate would result in participants experiencing significantly greater cortisol responses, and significantly higher levels of anxiety, and lower levels of enjoyment, effort, happiness, and self-confidence, relative to the caring/task groups.

University students (n = 107, age range: 18-28 years, Mage =19.89, SD = 1.80 ) were randomly assigned to one of four experimental groups: (1) females in a caring/task-involving climate (n = 28), (2) females in an ego-involving climate (n = 33), (3) males in a caring/task-involving climate (n = 23), and (4) males in an ego-involving climate (= 23).  Groups were further divided in that there were a minimum of 2 teachers and 2 confederates for every 15 participants. 

The Perceived Motivational Climate in Sport Questionnaire-1(Seifriz, Duda, & Chi, 1992; Walling, Duda, & Chi, 1993) and Caring Climate Scale (Newton et al., 2007) were used as a manipulation check of the intended climates.  In order to examine salivary cortisol, seven saliva samples were collected: 2 baseline (-20 and 0 min), 2 response measures (+30 and +45 min post-baseline), and 3 recovery (+60, +75, and +90 min).  Samples were analyzed using enzymatic immunoassay techniques.   Competitive state anxiety was examined both prior to and immediately following the experimentally manipulated juggling session via the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2: Martens, Burton, Vealey, Bump, & Smith, 1990).

The present study builds on achievement goal perspective research by providing physiological evidence that perceptions of an ego-involving motivational climate not only result in more maladaptive motivational responses, as previous research suggests, but do in fact elicit a significant cortisol spike in participants.   Participants’ salivary cortisol levels in the ego groups were significantly higher than the caring/task-involving groups at +30, +45, +60, and +75 minutes post instructional juggling session.  Moreover, the present investigation provides evidence that the perception of a caring/task-involving climate results in significantly decreased cortisol levels along with advantageous motivational responses.

In conclusion, this study suggests the perception of an ego-involving climate is both physiologically and psychologically maladaptive for participants.  For instance, higher levels of cortisol have been found to coincide with a decrease in vigor, an increase in tension and depression, and a decrease in athletic performance (Filaire, Bernain, Sagnol, & Lac, 2001).  Additionally, high levels of cortisol impedes immune function and hinders both protein synthesis (Harbuz, Chover-Gonzalez, & Jessop, 2003; Kraemer et al., 2009) and the body’s ability to repair and recover from athletic activity (Kraemer et al., 2004).


Filaire, E., Bernain, X., Sagnol, M., & Lac, G. (2001). Preliminary results on mood state, salivary testosterone: Cortisol ratio and team performance in a professional soccer team. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 86(2), 179-184. 
Harbuz, M., Chover-Gonzalez, A., & Jessop, D. (2003). Hypothalamo pituitary adrenal axis and chronic immune activation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 992(1), 99-106. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb03141.x 
Kraemer, W., French, D., Paxton, N., Hakkinen, K., Volek, J., Sebastianelli, W., et al. (2004). Changes in exercise performance and hormonal concentrations over a big ten soccer season in starters and nonstarters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(1), 121. 
Kraemer, W., Spiering, B., Volek, J., Martin, G., Howard, R., Ratamess, N., et al. (2009). Recovery from a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I football game: Muscle damage and hormonal status. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(1), 2. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31819306f2
Martens, R., Burton, D., Vealey, R., Bump, L., & Smith, D. (1990). Development and validation of the competitive state anxiety inventory-2. Competitive Anxiety in Sport, 117-190. 
Newton, M., Fry, M., Gano-Overway, L., Watson, D., Kim, M., & Magyar, M. (2007). Psychometric properties of the caring climate scale in a physical activity setting. Revista del Psicologia del Deporte, 16(1), 67-84. 
Seifriz, J., Duda, J., & Chi, L. (1992). The relationship of perceived motivational climate to intrinsic motivation and beliefs about success in basketball. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 14(4), 375-391. 
Walling, M., Duda, J., & Chi, L. (1993). The Perceived Motivational Climate in Sport Questionnaire: Construct and predictive validity. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 15, 172-183.