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 (n = 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).
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