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A Neuropsychological Model of Mentally Tough Behavior

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OBJECTIVES: Four studies were conducted with two primary objectives: (i) to conceptualize and measure mental toughness from a behavioral perspective; and (ii) to apply relevant personality theory to the examination of between-person differences in mentally tough behavior. METHOD: Studies 1 (n = 305) and 2 (n = 110) focused on the development of an informant-rated mental toughness questionnaire that assessed individual differences in ability to maintain or enhance performance under pressure from a wide range of stressors. Studies 3 (n = 214) and 4 (n = 196) examined the relationship between reinforcement sensitivities and mentally tough behavior. RESULTS: The highest levels of mental toughness reported by coaches occurred when performers were sensitive to punishment and insensitive to reward. Study 4 suggested that such performers are predisposed to identify threatening stimuli early which gives them the best possible opportunity to prepare an effective response to the pressurized environments they encounter. CONCLUSIONS: The findings show that high level cricketers who are punishment sensitive, but not reward sensitive, detect threat early and can maintain goal directed behavior under pressure from a range of different stressors.
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A Neuropsychological Model of
Mentally Tough Behavior
Lew Hardy, James Bell, and Stuart Beattie
Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance, Bangor University
Abstract
Four studies were conducted with two primary objectives: (a) to conceptualize and measure mental toughness from a
behavioral perspective and (b) to apply relevant personality theory to the examination of between-person differences in
mentally tough behavior. Studies 1 (N = 305 participants from a range of different sports) and 2 (N = 110 high-level cricketers)
focused on the development of an informant-rated mental toughness questionnaire that assessed individual differences in ability
to maintain or enhance performance under pressure from a wide range of stressors. Studies 3 (N = 214) and 4 (N = 196)
examined the relationship between reinforcement sensitivities and mentally tough behavior in high-level cricketers.The highest
levels of mental toughness reported by coaches occurred when cricketers were sensitive to punishment and insensitive to
reward. Study 4 suggested that such players are predisposed to identify threatening stimuli early, which gives them the best
possible opportunity to prepare an effective response to the pressurized environments they encounter.The findings show that
high-level cricketers who are punishment sensitive, but not reward sensitive, detect threat early and can maintain goal-directed
behavior under pressure from a range of different stressors.
Mental toughness is a term that has been used to describe the
ability of some people to continue to strive toward and achieve
their goals in psychological circumstances where others “fall
by the wayside” and fail. It has relevance to a wide range of
contexts, including business, military action, the performing
arts, rehabilitation from major surgery, death from terminal
illness, and high-level sport (Jones, 2004). Nevertheless,
despite a considerable volume of research into mental tough-
ness, there is still much debate regarding its conceptualization
and measurement (see, e.g., Anderson, 2010; Clough &
Strycharczyk, 2012; Gucciardi & Gordon, 2011). Detailed dis-
cussion of this issue is beyond the scope of the present article.
However, the vast majority of researchers seem to agree that
mental toughness is a (dispositional) construct that allows
individuals to deal with obstacles, distractions, pressure, and
adversity from a wide range of stressors (cf. Clough &
Strycharczyk, 2012; Gucciardi & Gordon, 2011; Jones,
Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002).
Most conceptualizations of mental toughness are multidi-
mensional in nature and focus on some collection of values,
attitudes, emotions, and cognitions that are hypothesized to
enable people to behave in such a way as to achieve their goals
in the face of obstacles. For Jones et al. (2002), these charac-
teristics are determination, focus, confidence, and perceived
control. For Gucciardi, Gordon, and Dimmock (2009), they are
thriving through challenge, sport awareness, tough attitude, and
desire for success. For Clough and colleagues (see Clough &
Strycharczyk, 2012), they are challenge appraisals, perceived
control, commitment, and confidence. Clearly, there are both
similarities and differences between these conceptualizations.
Equally clearly, there are also similarities between these con-
ceptualizations and those of other constructs, such as hardiness
and coping with adversity. However, the nuances and subtleties
of such similarities and differences are not the focus of the
present research either; they are discussed elsewhere in some
detail by Clough and Strycharczyk (2012) and Gucciardi and
Gordon (2011). Consequently, they will not be addressed here.
Much of the extant literature on mental toughness has
focused on demonstrating that high achievers have high levels
of mental toughness as defined by some set of psychological
characteristics like the ones identified above. This literature
has generally used one of two methodologies. A number of
studies have used the interview-based qualitative method
that was originally employed in Jones and colleagues’ (2002)
seminal article on the subject. At the exploratory stage of
any research program, or when complex effects need to be
untangled, such qualitative approaches are, of course, fre-
quently the method of choice. However, a number of research-
ers (see, e.g., Anderson, 2010) have argued that, in the context
of mental toughness, these methods have been “overused” and
it is time for other (more robust) methods to be brought to
bear on the subject. In particular, interview-based qualitative
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lew
Hardy, Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance, Bangor University,
George Building, Holyhead Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL572PZ United
Kingdom. Email: l.hardy@bangor.ac.uk.
Journal of Personality ••:••, •• 2013
© 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12034
methods do not allow researchers to differentiate between the
causes of mental toughness, the process of being mentally
tough, the outcomes of mental toughness, and other correlates
associated with mental toughness, a problem that the current
authors believe is inextricably linked to most conceptualiza-
tions of mental toughness.
Other researchers have used self-report measures of the
psychological characteristics conceptualized to underpin
mental toughness to discriminate between populations that
they assume will differ in mental toughness. However, in this
research, independent assessments of mentally tough behavior
(i.e., actual goal achievement in the face of pressure or adver-
sity) are rare, or possibly even nonexistent. As an example,
Gucciardi et al. (2009) showed that their four components of
self-assessed mental toughness (thriving through challenge,
sport awareness, tough attitude, and desire for success) dis-
criminated between groups of Australian footballers that dif-
fered in age, experience, and playing level. Of course, such
groups may well differ in their ability to achieve goals in the
face of pressure or adversity, but it seems unreasonable to
expect that this would be the only variable on which they
differed or, indeed, that they did differ on this variable without
some behavioral evidence to substantiate that assumption.
However, when Gucciardi and colleagues attempted to
corroborate their participants’ self-assessments of thriving
through challenge, sport awareness, tough attitude, and desire
for success, using parent and coach assessments of these
variables, the correlations were almost universally very
weak. We single out this study not as an example of poor
research in the area. Indeed, it is probably one of the better
studies; at least the authors attempted to corroborate their
self-report ratings independently. Many other studies may
be even more fundamentally flawed; for example, a recent
confirmatory factor analysis by Gucciardi, Hanton, and
Mallett (2012) has called into question all studies that have
used Clough, Earle, and Sewell’s (2002) Mental Toughness
Questionnaire (MTQ 48) on the grounds that it lacks factorial
integrity. However, our primary objective was not to critique
the previous mental toughness research, but rather to point
out that it leaves some fairly fundamental issues still to be
resolved.
The real point of the present article was to take a rather
different approach to the conceptualization and measurement
of mental toughness. Our starting point was twofold. First,
mentally tough behavior is just that, a behavior. Consequently,
for the purposes of the present article, we will define mental
toughness as the ability to achieve personal goals in the face of
pressure from a wide range of different stressors. Many psy-
chological variables may influence mental toughness, or be
correlates of it, but our contention is that, fundamentally, we
need to evaluate whether mentally tough behavior has occurred
before we make any claims about the importance of different
cognitions, attitudes, and emotions. Consequently, assessing
mentally tough behavior via self-report would clearly not be
the procedure of choice because of the obvious confound that
would exist with social desirability and self-presentation.
Similarly, objective indicators of achievement were also not
the measure of choice for assessing mental toughness because
they are confounded by talent, practice, skill level, and no
doubt a host of other psychosocial and physiological variables
associated with high achievement. For these reasons, the initial
purpose of the current program (Studies 1 and 2) was to con-
struct a measure to be completed by an informant (e.g., a
coach) that could be used to assess mentally tough behavior in
high-level sports performers, as opposed to the cognitions,
attitudes, and affect associated with such mental toughness.
High-level sport was considered an appropriate context in
which to examine mental toughness because the competitive
sports environment can be very stressful and often requires
athletes to perform under intense pressure. Although the
demands placed upon a performer can emerge from a number
of sources, including competition, training, injury, general life
events, and everyday occurrences (cf. Hardy, Jones, & Gould,
1996), the present set of studies focused on a subset of those
stressors that were especially relevant to competitive perfor-
mance because these have been reported to be particularly
salient to high-level athletes (Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett,
2002; Woodman & Hardy, 2001).
Second, implicit in our conceptualization of mental tough-
ness is the notion that mental toughness is a relatively stable
disposition that is unlikely to change quickly over time.
There is nothing new about this. Most mental toughness
researchers seem to make this assumption. However, one of
the ways in which the current program of research is differ-
ent from previous research is that, rather than focus upon the
psychological skills, attitudes, emotions, and other cognitions
that may underpin mental toughness, we examined the extent
to which mental toughness could be predicted from existing
personality theory. Of particular interest was Gray and
McNaughton’s (2000) revised Reinforcement Sensitivity
Theory (rRST), derived from neuropsychological research,
which has a number of advantages over other personality
theories with regard to mental toughness. This theory, and its
neuropsychological basis, will be discussed in more detail
prior to Study 3.
STUDY 1
Method
Participants. Two hundred forty-six university students (133
male, 113 female) from the UK, aged between 18 and 31
(M
age
= 20.5, SD = 2.1), were recruited to take part in the first
stage of data collection. All participants were active members
of university and/or local sports teams from athletics (n = 18),
hockey (n = 87), netball (n = 26), rugby union (n = 64), rugby
league (n = 30), and soccer (n = 51).
Fifty-nine different UK university sports science students
(35 male and 24 female) from the UK, aged between 20 and 26
(M
age
= 20.8, SD = 1.28), were recruited for the second stage of
Hardy, Bell, & Beattie2
data collection. All the participants were active members of
university sports teams from hockey (n = 14), netball (n = 17),
rugby (n = 12), and soccer (n = 16).
Measures. Mental toughness was assessed using an
informant-rated scale designed for this study. The measure was
based on the definition of mental toughness proposed in the
introduction. Items focused on the pressures and stressors that
performers typically face in competition (Woodman & Hardy,
2001). They were generated by the authors (all experienced
sport psychology researcher-practitioners) in conjunction with
five experienced high-performance coaches. Item formulation
and content were discussed until unanimous agreement was
reached on 15 items that were retained for subsequent use in
the inventory (see Table 1). Participants were asked to identify
a specific performer whom they knew well and rate how well
that performer was able to maintain a high level of personal
performance in the different pressurized situations identified
by the items. Responses were based on a 7-point Likert scale
that ranged from 1 (rarely)to7(regularly), with a midpoint
anchor of 4 (sometimes). Standard antisocial desirability
instructions were included at the beginning of the inventory.
Copies of the inventory can be obtained from the correspond-
ing author upon request.
Procedure. After obtaining university ethical approval, stu-
dents were initially approached prior to or following lectures
to inform them of the nature of the study and obtain their
informed consent. For Stage 1, participants were asked to
complete the Mental Toughness Inventory (MTI) on the team-
mate or athlete whom they had performed alongside for the
longest time. Participants were informed that the completed
inventories would remain confidential and would not be shared
with any third parties (e.g., coaches or teammates). The pro-
cedure for Stage 2 was identical to that used for Stage 1, except
participants completed the MTI twice, three weeks apart, with
regard to the same performer in order to assess the test-retest
reliability of the inventory.
Results
In line with recommendations from Jöreskog and Sorbom
(2003), confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was used in an
exploratory fashion to examine the factor structure of the
Mental Toughness Inventory. Based on recommendations from
Hu and Bentler (1999), a model was considered a good fit if the
c
2
/ df ratio was less than 2.00, the comparative fit index (CFI)
approached .95, the root mean square error of approximation
(RMSEA) approached .05, and the standardized root mean
square residual (SRMR) was less than 0.8. Prelis 2.14 was
used to generate a covariance matrix, and Lisrel 8.5 was used
to test the single-factor model. The initial 15-item model was
normally distributed, but the fit statistics were not acceptable,
c
2
(90) = 317.32, CFI = .90, RMSEA = .11, SRMR = .08. To
produce a good fit, post hoc model modifications were carried
out by examination of the standardized residuals, the modifi-
cation indices, and the theoretical content of each item. Seven
items were removed, and the resulting eight-item model
was normally distributed and demonstrated good fit statistics,
c
2
(20) = 33.82, CFI = .98, RMSEA = .06, SRMR = .04. The
standardized factor loadings of the remaining eight items were
all above 0.5. Cronbach’s alpha for the MTI was .87. The mean
score for informants’ ratings of their peers on the MTI was
4.18 (SD = 1.06).
Ta b l e 1 Studies 1–2: Items From the Mental Toughness Inventory
Player X is able to maintain a high level of per sonal performance in
competitive matches:
Study 1 Study 2
Loadings Mean (SD) Loadings Mean (SD)
1) When people are relying on him to perform well. * 0.67 4.24 (1.82) 0.68 4.77 (1.32)
2) When the conditions are difficult. * 0.70 4.59 (1.47) 0.69 4.69 (1.11)
3) When he has to perform at a high level all day. * 0.65 4.53 (1.58) 0.69 4.76 (1.14)
4) When it’s a very important game in the season. * 0.79 4.31 (1.82) 0.81 4.84 (1.26)
5) When the match is particularly tight. * 0.77 4.34 (1.60) 0.78 4.79 (1.22)
6 When the opposition are using aggressive tactics. * 0.65 4.58 (1.72) 0.64 4.98 (1.31)
7) When there are a large number of spectators present. * 0.67 4.78 (1.56) 0.66 4.82 (1.20)
8) When his preparation has not gone to plan. * 0.53 3.94 (1.55) 0.46 4.38 (1.37)
9 When his recent performances have been poor. R 0.48 3.53 (1.70)
10) When he is lacking in confidence. R 0.49 3.49 (1.52)
11) When he is suffering from fatigue. R 0.44 4.02 (1.56)
12) When he has received criticism from significant others. R 0.52 3.75 (1.65)
13) When his teammates are struggling. R 0.56 4.48 (1.69)
14) When the opposition are of a particularly high standard. R 0.78 4.36 (1.72)
15 When he is struggling with an injury. R 0.40 3.53 (1.47)
Total mental toughness 4.18 (1.06) 4.76 (0.95)
Note. *Items retained in the eight-item model used in Studies 2, 3, and 4.
R = Items removed from the eight-item model used in Studies 2, 3, and 4.
Mental Toughness 3
The mean score for the test data at Stage 2 was 5.26
(SD = 0.91), and the mean score for the retest data was 5.21
(SD = 0.86). A paired sample t test indicated that these means
were not significantly different, t(58) = 1.60, p > .05. The test-
retest reliability for the MTI was 0.96.
Discussion
Although Study 1 demonstrated a good fit for the eight-item
MTI, some readers might argue that university-level athletes
are not of a high enough standard to experience the high
levels of pressure necessary to demonstrate mental toughness.
However, the authors would prefer to argue that many univer-
sity sports clubs in the UK play in semiprofessional leagues so
that such participants are of an adequate standard for prelimi-
nary scale development. In any case, the aim of Study 2 was to
confirm the factor structure of the MTI on a separate sample of
professional cricketers assessed by their coaches.
STUDY 2
Method
Participants. The participants for the second study were 110
male cricket coaches from the UK aged between 25 and 63
(M
age
= 41.86, SD = 9.92). Cricket is a national sport in the
UK with some similarities to baseball in that it requires
players to make decisions and perform complex, interceptive
motor actions under considerable time and competition pres-
sure. All participants were fully qualified coaches with an
average of 8.64 years of coaching experience (SD = 6.38).
The large majority of the coaches recruited (n = 91) were
employed by one of the 18 first-class counties where cricket is
played professionally in the UK. The remaining 19 coaches
were affiliated with one of the counties in a part-time capac-
ity. The coaches were asked to complete the MTI for one of
the county (professional) players they observed on a regular
basis.
Measures. The eight-item MTI that was developed in Study 1
was used in this study.
Procedure. After ethical approval, coaches were contacted
by email to inform them of the nature of the study. The first
and second authors are known to many professional cricket
coaches through other work with the England and Wales
Cricket Board. Once permission had been granted, the coaches
were emailed a copy of the MTI, together with the relevant
consent forms, and asked to identify the player they had
observed most in recent competition. As a guideline, coaches
were expected to have coached the player for at least one year
and observed at least 10 competitive performances. All the
coaches who agreed to participate returned the Mental Tough-
ness Inventory and the consent forms within one week.
Results
CFA of the eight-item model revealed a very good fit,
c
2
(20) = 25.28, CFI = .98, RMSEA = .05, SRMR = .04. The
standardized factor loadings exceeded 0.4 for all items in
the model. Cronbach’s alpha was .89. The mean score for the
coaches’ ratings of their players was 4.76 (SD = 0.95). The
reader may recall that the mean score for the 246 university
athletes rated in Stage 1 of Study 1 was 4.18 (SD = 1.06),
which an independent-samples t test indicated was signifi-
cantly lower than the coaches’ ratings of their professional
cricketers , t(354) = 2.74, p < .01.
Discussion
Study 2 confirmed the structural validity of the eight-item MTI
in a sample of professional cricket coaches. The MTI also
discriminated between professional cricketers and university-
level athletes in terms of mental toughness.
STUDY 3
The primary aim of Study 3 was to examine the extent to
which relevant personality theory could predict mentally tough
behavior as measured by the MTI. One theory that offered
considerable potential to explain individual differences in
mental toughness was Gray and McNaughton’s (2000) rRST.
In its original format, reinforcement sensitivity theory pro-
posed that Eysenck’s (1967) extraversion-introversion and
neuroticism-stability dimensions should be rotated by approxi-
mately 30° to form more causally efficient axes that were
biologically aligned to neural networks underpinning reward
sensitivity (RS) and punishment sensitivity (PS). According to
rRST, reward sensitivity is underpinned by a neurological
network known as the behavioral activation system (BAS),
comprising the dopaminergic reward circuitry, involving pro-
jections from the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental
area to the dorsal and ventral striatum, and also their
corresponding cortical projections to the prefrontal cortex
(McNaughton & Corr, 2004). By responding to rewarding
stimuli in the environment, this system is proposed to be
responsible for all goal-focused approach behavior.
In the rRST, punishment sensitivity is underpinned by a
combination of the fight-flight-freeze system (FFFS) and the
behavioral inhibition system (BIS). The FFFS and the BIS
make shared use of the periaqueductal grey, medial hypothala-
mus, and amygdala. The FFFS also involves the anterior cin-
gulate and prefrontal ventral stream, whereas the BIS involves
the septo-hippocampal system, posterior cingulate, and pre-
frontal dorsal stream (Gray & McNaughton, 2000). According
to the theory, the FFFS is responsible for mediating all
responses to aversive stimuli (unconditioned, conditioned, and
innate) that result in active avoidance behavior, that is, when a
person’s chief concern is to remove him- or herself from the
Hardy, Bell, & Beattie4
situation. The BIS is engaged during approach toward aversive
stimuli and is responsible for resolving goal conflict between
the BAS and the FFFS. Such approach-avoidance conflict
elicits a series of behavioral responses associated with anxiety,
including the inhibition of all pre-potent behavior, an increase
in physiological arousal, and the scanning of long-term
memory for information that might be relevant to resolving the
conflict.
The evidence in support of rRST is impressive (for reviews,
see Corr, 2008; Gray & McNaughton, 2000), and one of its
major strengths in the context of mental toughness is that,
potentially, it offers a neuropsychological explanation of the
maintenance of goal-focused behavior in the face of stressful
stimuli. Furthermore, research examining the basic tenets of
rRST has yielded a number of findings that are highly pertinent
to mental toughness. For example, reward sensitivity has been
associated with mild reactions to highly threatening situations
(Perkins & Corr, 2006) and high levels of performance in a
military combat scenario (Perkins, Kemp, & Corr, 2007). In
contrast, punishment sensitivity has been associated with
negative evaluations of the capacity to deal with pain (Muris
et al., 2007), orientation away from threatening situations
(Perkins & Corr, 2006), and poor performance in military
combat tasks (Perkins et al., 2007).
This research suggests that reward sensitivity is related to
various cognitions and behaviors that one might associate with
mental toughness, whereas punishment sensitivity is related to
cognitions and behaviors that appear to imply a lack of mental
toughness. However, it is important to note that reward and
punishment sensitivity are supposed to be orthogonal to
each other (Gray & McNaughton, 2000), and most previous
research has examined only their separate main effects, rather
than interactions between the two systems. Corr (2001) has
proposed that interactive effects are most likely to occur in
environments containing a mixture of strong appetitive and
aversive stimuli, which is, of course, exactly the sort of envi-
ronment one might want to examine for evidence of mentally
tough behavior. Based on this thinking, the purpose of Study 3
was to examine the main and interactive effects of reward and
punishment sensitivity on mental toughness in high-level
cricketers. It was hypothesized that the highest levels of mental
toughness would be associated with high levels of reward
sensitivity and low levels of punishment sensitivity. Further-
more, if there was an interaction between punishment and
reward sensitivity, then high levels of reward sensitivity
would offset any negative effects associated with punishment
sensitivity.
Method
Participants. Two hundred fourteen male cricketers from the
UK aged between 15 and 19 (M
age
= 17.1, SD = 1.3) were
recruited to take part in the study. All participants were cur-
rently involved in or had recently graduated from one of the 18
first-class county academies. Each academy can select a
maximum of 12 precociously talented players between the
ages of 15 and 18 per year. Each of the 214 cricketers recruited
for this study were rated on the MTI by their county coach. In
total, 30 coaches (M
age
= 38.94, SD = 8.21 years) completed
the MTI, with each coach rating 2 to 15 cricketers (M = 7.13
ratings per coach).
Measures
Mental Toughness. The eight-item MTI, validated in
Studies 1 and 2, was used to measure mental toughness.
Reward and Punishment Sensitivity. Reinforcement
sensitivity was assessed using Corr’s (2001) transformations
of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire–Revised Short
version (EPQR-S; Eysenck, Eysenck, & Barrett, 1985). The
EPQR-S is a 36-item self-report questionnaire that provides
scores on extraversion (12 items), neuroticism (12 items),
and psychoticism (12 items). The EPQR-S scales have
demonstrated good internal reliability (a=0.77–0.88), show
good comparability (r = 0.71–0.96) to longer versions of
the Eysenckian personality measures (Francis, Philipchalk, &
Brown, 1991), and have been used before on similar-aged
adolescent males (Eysenck et al., 1985). Each item is framed
as a forced-choice question that has to be answered yes or no.
In order to use the EPQR-S to measure reward and punishment
sensitivity, Corr (2001) proposed the following transforma-
tions: reward sensitivity = (Ex2)+ N + P), and punishment
sensitivity = (12–E)+ (N x 2) P), where E = extraversion,
N = neuroticism, and P = psychoticism. Scores were therefore
free to range from 0 to 48 for reward sensitivity and from –12
to 36 for punishment sensitivity.
Procedure. After ethical approval, academy directors from
all 18 first-class counties were contacted via email and pro-
vided with a brief description of the study and participant
requirements. After academy directors and coaches had
granted permission, an information letter and consent form
were distributed to academy-affiliated players and the parents/
guardians of affiliated players who were under 18 years of age.
To avoid socially desirable responses, the information letter
deliberately made no mention of “mental toughness” or “per-
formance under pressure. All participation was voluntary,
and all parties were informed that they could withdraw at any
time.
Data collection occurred immediately prior to an academy
training session. All data were collected at least 24 hours
before or after a competitive match to avoid competition-
related affect interfering with the players’ responses. Affiliated
players were given the EPQR-S along with standardized
instructions about completion. They were instructed that the
data provided would be held in confidence and not shared with
any third party (e.g., their coach). While the affiliated players
completed the EPQR-S, the players’ coach was provided with
the MTI for all those players involved in the study along with
standardized instructions about completion. Due to time con-
Mental Toughness 5
straints, there were occasions when the coach was unable to
complete all the MTIs on the same day that the players pro-
vided their data. When this occurred, the coach was asked to
return the forms by post or email within 48 hours.
Analysis
The current data consisted of two hierarchical levels, with
cricketers (Level 1) nested within the coaches (Level 2).
Because of the multilevel nature of the data, an a priori deci-
sion was made to use multilevel analysis. Multilevel modeling
allows researchers to examine Level 1 and Level 2 relation-
ships among variables simultaneously and provides estimates
of individual slopes and intercepts for each set of Level 1 units
embedded within each Level 2 unit. Analyses were conducted
using the MLwIN software package (V. 2.1; Rasbash,
Charlton, Browne, Healy, & Cameron, 2009). Consistent with
procedures set out by Rasbash et al. (2009), all of the variables
in the analysis were group mean–centered prior to analysis.
In a single-level regression model, both the intercept and
slope are fixed for all observations. However, in a multilevel
model, the intercept is allowed to vary across Level 2 variables
(e.g., coaches). The multilevel model may further specify the
slope (i.e., the regression coefficient of the explanatory vari-
able) to vary between Level 2 (coach) units as well. To deter-
mine whether fitting random slopes improves on the random
intercept model, an examination of the deviance, –2 log like-
lihood (c
2
) statistic, is required. A significant reduction in the
c
2
statistic indicates that fitting random slopes significantly
improves the model, whereas a nonsignificant reduction indi-
cates that the most parsimonious model is the random intercept
(only) model. Estimates were obtained using the iterative gen-
eralized least squares (IGLS) procedure embodied in the
MLwIN software. Following preliminary analysis of whether
the Level 2 variances should be randomized or fixed, multilevel
analyses were conducted in a sequential manner whereby each
predictor variable was entered into the multilevel equation in
turn. Model 1 displayed the results for the predictor variable
(punishment sensitivity), Model 2 displayed the results for the
predictor variable and the moderator variable (reward sensitiv-
ity), and Model 3 displayed the results for the predictor vari-
able, the moderator, and the interaction term predicting the
dependent variable (mental toughness). The nature and form of
significant interactions were followed up by plotting the inter-
actions at one standard deviation above and below the mean.
Analyses of simple slopes were carried out using the software
developed by Preacher, Curran, and Bauer (2006).
Results
Descriptive statistics and correlations for all study variables
are displayed in Table 2. Alpha coefficients for EPQR-S vari-
ables ranged from 0.78 to 0.85. The alpha coefficient for the
MTI was .84. The unconditional model, where the dependent
variable is entered without any predictors at any levels, repre-
sents the unexplained variation in mental toughness at both
levels (i.e., individual and group). In the present data set, the
interclass correlation for mental toughness was .055, suggest-
ing that 5.5% of the variance in mental toughness was at the
between-coach level and 94.5% of the variance in mental
toughness was at the within-coach level. When the slopes
were allowed to vary in Model 1 and Model 2, a nonsignificant
reduction in the c
2
statistic was found, indicating that fitting
random slopes did not improve on the random intercept model.
This is in line with the theoretical perspective taken, since
while there is reason to believe that the mental toughness levels
of players may vary across coaches, there is no reason to
believe that the relationship between reinforcement sensitivi-
ties and mental toughness should vary across coaches. Conse-
quently, the Level 2 slopes for punishment sensitivity and
reward sensitivity were treated as fixed factors. Model 3
revealed that, having controlled for main effects of punishment
sensitivity, b
1
= –.055, SE = .057, p > .05, and reward sensitiv-
ity, b
2
= .422, SE = .060, p < .01, the Punishment ¥ Reward
Ta b l e 2 Studies 3–4: Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations Among Variables
Mean (SD)1 2 345
Study 3
1 Punishment sensitivity 9.24 (7.43)
2 Reward sensitivity 24.36 (5.59) –.206**
3 Mental toughness 4.40 (0.98) –.035 –.494**
Study 4
1 Punishment sensitivity 9.21 (5.85)
2 Reward sensitivity 24.02 (6.12) –.201**
3 Mental toughness 4.33 (0.79) –.029 –.136
4 Threat detection –0.04 (2.85) .173* .036 –.060
5 Processing time(seconds) 6.63 (4.24) –.064 –.121 .060 .043
6 Decision-making errors 2.00 (0.94) .146* .249** –.110 .043 –.109
Note. **p < .01. *p < .05.
Hardy, Bell, & Beattie6
Sensitivity interaction term was significant, b
3
= –.470,
SE = .062, p < .01. Figure 1 shows that when reward sensitiv-
ity was low, mental toughness increased as punishment sensi-
tivity increased. However, the opposite relationship exists
when reward sensitivity was high, whereby mental toughness
decreased as punishment sensitivity increased. Using the
Preacher et al. (2006) software to further explore the interac-
tion revealed that the slope for low reward sensitivity was
significant and positive, t(211) = 4.96, p < .01, whereas the
slope for high reward sensitivity was significant and negative,
t(211) = –6.27, p < .01.
Discussion
The main aim of Study 3 was to examine the relationship
between reinforcement sensitivities and coach-assessed mental
toughness. The results were counter to our original hypothesis,
in that punishment sensitivity was found to be significantly and
positively related to mental toughness when reward sensitivity
was low and significantly and negatively related to mental
toughness when reward sensitivity was high.
One possible explanation for this finding is that individuals
who are sensitive to punishment and insensitive to reward are
predisposed to pick up threat earlier than their counterparts. A
series of early studies by Fenz and associates (see, e.g., Fenz,
1973) found that early threat detection combined with an
inhibitory control process was an adaptive mechanism used by
experts in the mastery of stress. By identifying the potential
threats earlier, the performer has more time and opportunity to
implement an effective coping strategy. Of course, this argu-
ment relies on the assumption that the participants in the
current study had developed effective coping mechanisms.
This assumption appears reasonable given that the participants
had been involved in highly competitive national-level sport
for approximately four to five years. Without effective coping
strategies, it seems likely that players (especially punishment-
sensitive players) would either have withdrawn from competi-
tive cricket voluntarily or have been deselected from county
programs by their coaches. In the context of mental toughness,
as it is conceptualized in the present investigation, early threat
detection appears more advantageous than late threat detection
or being unaware that threats exists, which is what may happen
when players are insensitive to punishment cues. Further
support for this line of reasoning comes from recent research
by van Wingen, Geuze, Vermetten, and Fernandez (2011), who
found enhanced amygdala sensitivity in trained military per-
sonnel returning from deployment on combat duty. As well as
being part of the BIS and FFFS, the amygdala is integrally
involved in threat detection.
Of course, these findings are not at first sight consistent
with Perkins and colleagues’ (2007) finding that punishment
sensitivity was negatively related, and reward sensitivity was
positively related, to performance in a military combat sce-
nario. However, it is important to note that Perkins and col-
leagues’ participants were military recruits undergoing initial
training, not high-level performers with well-rehearsed coping
skills. Furthermore, earlier research by Perkins and Corr
(2005) found a positive relationship between worry (one
aspect of punishment sensitivity) and workplace performance
in high-ability workers, but not in lower-ability workers. To
understand why the relationship between punishment sensitiv-
ity and mental toughness is negative when reward sensitivity is
high, it is helpful to revisit rRST. According to the theory, the
BIS is only activated by approach-avoidance conflict. Such
conflict is most likely to occur when an individual is sensitive
to both punishment and reward. Kambouropoulos and Staiger
(2004) confirmed this line of thinking when they found that
individuals scoring high on EPQ-derived punishment sensitiv-
ity and reward sensitivity demonstrated slower response times,
indicative of behavioral inhibition, in a letter identification
task. In a cricket context, one might imagine a batsman who at
one level is motivated by the prospect of winning the match for
his team (i.e., reward) and at another level is worried about
avoiding being dismissed easily and letting his team down (i.e.,
punishment). The conflict engendered is likely to lead to high
levels of behavioral inhibition, which might manifest itself as
a lack of composure and decisiveness in shot selection.
Although the results of Study 3 can be explained in a
relatively coherent manner by the above line of reasoning,
further investigation was clearly required to test such a post
hoc explanation. Consequently, the aims of Study 4 were to (a)
replicate the findings of Study 3; (b) examine the relationship
between reinforcement sensitivities and threat detection—it
was hypothesized that threat detection would occur earlier as
punishment sensitivity increased; and (c) examine the relation-
ship between punishment and reward sensitivity and context-
specific behavioral inhibition—it was hypothesized that higher
levels of behavioral inhibition would be found in cricketers
who were high in both punishment and reward sensitivity
compared to cricketers who were low in either or both reward
and punishment sensitivity.
Figure 1 Study 3: Interaction between punishment sensitivity and reward
sensitivity predicting mental toughness.
Mental Toughness 7
STUDY 4
Method
Participants. One hundred ninety-six different male crick-
eters from the UK aged between 15 and 18 (M
age
= 17.23,
SD = 2.13) were recruited to take part in the study. All partici-
pants were nominated by a county coach to attend the National
Cricket Talent Test (NCTT). Players were only nominated if
they were judged to have the potential to be a future world’s
best cricketer based on performances in training and compe-
tition. Each county coach was permitted to nominate up to a
maximum of 10 players. Each of the 196 cricketers recruited
for this study were rated on the MTI by their county coach. In
total, 45 coaches (M
age
= 41.28, SD = 7.90 years) completed
the MTI; each coach rated 2 to 8 cricketers (M = 4.35 ratings
per coach).
Measures
Mental Toughness and Reinforcement Sensitivity.
These were measured in the same way as in Study 3.
Threat Detection. Threat detection was measured using a
questionnaire designed specifically for this study. The ques-
tionnaire depicted a series of eight cricket-specific scenarios
that previous research (for a review, see Woodman & Hardy,
2001) has shown to be potentially threatening. An example is
“Your County’s side (U-17 / U-19) are playing in a national
final at Lords. There are approximately 1000 spectators
present. Your team is batting second. You are chasing 250 and
the score is currently 220–4 at the start of the 45
th
over. You are
due to be batting at number 10. Participants were then asked
at what point they would start mentally preparing for the event.
For each scenario, there were five potential options to choose
from. Each option was assigned a categorical rating from 1 to
5, where 1 referred to the latest time to begin mental prepara-
tion and 5 referred to the earliest time to begin mental prepa-
ration. As such, high scores reflected early threat detection and
long periods of mental preparation, and low scores reflected
late threat detection and short periods of mental preparation.
Scores were standardized and then summed to give a total
score that was used as the dependent variable in all further
analyses. Copies of the questionnaire can be obtained from the
first author.
Behavioral Inhibition. Behavioral inhibition was
assessed using a computer-based decision-making task
designed specifically for this study. The task was designed to
measure conflict-induced behavioral inhibition. Participants
were presented with a series of six cricket-specific scenarios
depicting fielding situations on a computer screen. Each of
the scenarios was a video clip obtained from television
footage of the 2009 T:20 World Cup in England. The sce-
narios were selected by the second author in conjunction with
a group of highly qualified cricket coaches. In order to gen-
erate conflict in participants, scenarios depicted pressurized
situations where the game was closely contested and it was
difficult to identify the best course of action. Prior to the
presentation of each scenario, the subject was made aware of
the duration of the video footage, the match situation, and the
location of the other fielders in the scenario. At the end of the
scenario, the subject was presented with two options: option
A and option B. Option A was always a relatively cautious
option, whereas Option B was always a relatively risky option
(see below). Participants were instructed to decide what the
most appropriate option would be if they were to find them-
selves in that situation. Behavioral inhibition was measured as
the processing time it took to make the decision. Fielding
scenarios were chosen because every player has to field in
cricket, whereas batting and bowling tasks are usually carried
out by specialists. One example of the type of options used in
the decision-making task was A: Let the ball bounce, B: Go
for the catch.
Procedure. After obtaining ethical approval, an information
letter and consent forms were distributed to all players nomi-
nated for the National Cricket Talent Test. The same documen-
tation was distributed to the parents/guardians of nominated
players under 18 years of age. The National Cricket Talent Test
occurred over 5 days at the conclusion of the competitive
cricket season. All data were collected within this 5-day
period. Participants completed the self-report questionnaires
(EPQR-S and threat detection) in small groups in a classroom-
type environment. All participants were given standardized
verbal instructions regarding the completion of the question-
naires, including standard antisocial-desirability instructions
that encouraged them to respond honestly at all times. Partici-
pants were also informed that data would be treated confiden-
tially and not used for talent selection purposes.
Data related to behavioral inhibition were collected on the
same day as the questionnaire data. Participants were divided
randomly into groups of five to complete the decision-making
task. Personal computers (PCs) were arranged in classroom
style to avoid distractions. Instructions regarding the nature of
the decision-making task and the participant requirements
were presented visually on the PC screen. Participants were
instructed to place their left and right index fingers on the
letter A and the letter B on the keyboard so they could
“respond as fast as possible without making an error of
judgment.
County coaches were sent the eight-item MTI one week
prior to the NCTT for the players they had nominated for
testing. Coaches were asked to complete the MTI based on
observations from the just completed season. Coaches were
also asked to return the inventories by the final day of testing so
data could be analyzed concurrently.
Analysis
The same multilevel modeling procedures were used as in
Study 3.
Hardy, Bell, & Beattie8
Results
MentalToughness. Descriptive statistics and correlations for
all study variables are displayed in Table 2. In this data set, the
interclass correlation for mental toughness was .110, suggest-
ing that 11.0% of the variance in mental toughness was at the
between-coach level and 89.0% was at the within-coach level.
When the slopes were allowed to vary, a nonsignificant c
2
statistic was found, indicating that fitting random slopes did
not improve on the random intercept–only model. Conse-
quently, the Level 2 slopes for punishment sensitivity and
reward sensitivity were again treated as fixed factors. When
punishment sensitivity, reward sensitivity, and the interaction
term (PS ¥ RS) were added as Level 1 predictors, the results
were similar to Study 3 (see Table 3 for details). The main
effect of punishment sensitivity on mental toughness was not
significant, b
1
= –.027, SE = .059, p .05. The main effect
of reward sensitivity was significant, b
2
= –.146, SE = .064,
p < .05. However, more pertinently, having controlled for main
effects, the interaction term (PS ¥ RS) was again significant,
b
3
= –.217, SE = .085, p < .05. Using the Preacher et al. (2006)
software to further explore the interaction revealed that the
slope for low reward sensitivity approached significance and
was positive, t(193) = 1.73, p = .08, whereas the slope for high
reward sensitivity was significant and negative, t(193) = –2.61,
p < .01. This interaction is depicted in Figure 2 and replicates
the interaction found in Study 3.
Threat Detection. The second model explored the relation-
ship between reinforcement sensitivities and threat detection.
The interclass correlation for threat detection was 0.0020, sug-
gesting that 0.20% of the variance in threat detection was at the
between-coach level and 99.80% was at the within-coach level.
When the slopes were allowed to vary, a nonsignificant c
2
statistic was found, indicating that fitting random slopes did
not improve on the random intercept model. Consequently, the
Level 2 slopes for punishment sensitivity and reward sensitiv-
ity were again treated as fixed factors. When punishment sen-
sitivity, reward sensitivity, and the interaction term (PS ¥ RS)
were added as Level 1 predictors, the results were as hypoth-
esized (see Table 4 for details). The main effect of punishment
sensitivity on threat detection was significant, b
1
= .560,
SE = .244, p < .05, indicating that threat detection occurs
earlier as punishment sensitivity increases. Having controlled
for punishment sensitivity effects, the main effect of reward
sensitivity was not significant, b
2
= .135, SE = .241, p > .05,
and having controlled for both punishment and reward senti-
tivity, the PS ¥ RS interaction term was also nonsignificant,
b
3
= .139, SE = .292, p > .05.
Behavioral Inhibition. The interclass correlation for behav-
ioral inhibition was 0.0138, suggesting that 1.38% of the vari-
ance was at the between-athlete level and 98.62% of the
variance was at the within-athlete level. When the slopes were
allowed to vary, a nonsignificant c
2
statistic was found, so the
Level 2 slopes for punishment sensitivity and reward sensitiv-
ity were treated as fixed factors. When punishment sensitivity,
reward sensitivity, and the cross-product term (PS ¥ RS) were
Ta b l e 3 Studies 3–4: Multilevel Analyses: Effects of Reinforcement Sensitivities on Mental Toughness
Mental Toughness
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
b SE b SE b SE
Study 3
Intercept, b
0ij
4.41 .068 4.41 .059 4.34 .054
Punishment sensitivity, b
1
.010 .072 –.083 .064 –.055 .057
Reward sensitivity, b
2
–.528** .065 –.422** .060
PS ¥ RS, b
3
–.470** .062
Study 4
Intercept, b
0ij
4.33 .056 4.33 .055 4.30 .055
Punishment sensitivity, b
1
–.027 .059 –.047 .059 –.044 .058
Reward sensitivity, b
2
–.146* .064 –.120* .064
PS ¥ RS, b
3
–.217* .085
Note. PS = punishment sensitivity; RS = reward sensitivity.
**p < .01. *p < .05.
Figure 2 Study 4: Interaction between punishment sensitivity and reward
sensitivity predicting mental toughness.
Mental Toughness 9
added as Level 1 predictors, the results were not as hypoth-
esized (see Table 4 for details). The main effect of punishment
sensitivity on processing time was not significant, b
1
= –392.3,
SE = 317.1, p > .05. The main effect of reward sensitivity on
processing time was not significant, b
2
= –444.01, SE = 346.9,
p > .05. Having controlled for main effects, the interaction
term (PS ¥ RS) was significant, b
3
= –1520.2, SE = 455.8,
p < .01. However, the Preacher et al. (2006) software revealed
that the simple slope for low reward sensitivity was significant
and positive, t(193) = 1.98, p < .05, whereas the simple slope
for high reward sensitivity was significant and negative,
t(193) = –3.57, p < .01. Thus, the nature of the interaction sug-
gested that processing time increased as punishment sensitiv-
ity increased when reward sensitivity was low and decreased as
punishment sensitivity increased when reward sensitivity was
high. Thus, processing time for decisions was shortest when
both punishment sensitivity and reward sensitivity were high.
This interaction (see Figure 3) was very different from the
original hypothesis, which proposed that the greatest levels of
behavioral inhibition (longest processing times) would occur
when punishment sensitivity and reward sensitivity were both
high.
In order to further examine this counterintuitive finding for
processing time, the authors examined decision-making errors.
It was thought that the high level of conflict engendered by
high punishment sensitivity and high reward sensitivity might
have led to panicky decision making, resulting in shorter pro-
cessing times but poorer decisions. In order to examine this
hypothesis, the authors asked four highly qualified coaches to
identify the most appropriate decision for each of the fielding
scenarios used in Study 4. In four out of the six scenarios, all
four coaches were in agreement as to the correct decision (two
conservative decisions and two risky decisions). In the remain-
ing two scenarios, the coaches were unable to come to a con-
sensus regarding the best decision, so these two scenarios were
removed from further analysis.
In the remaining four-scenario data set, the interclass cor-
relation for behavioral inhibition was 0.0142, suggesting that
1.42% of the variance was at the between-coach level and
98.58% of the variance was at the within-coach level. When
the slopes were allowed to vary, a nonsignificant c
2
statistic
was found, so the Level 2 slopes for punishment sensitivity and
reward sensitivity were again treated as fixed factors. When
reward sensitivity, punishment sensitivity, and the PS ¥ RS
interaction term were added as Level 1 predictors, the results
were as hypothesized. Punishment sensitivity accounted for
significant variance in decision-making errors, b
1
= .185,
SE = .070, p < .01. Reward sensitivity accounted for signifi-
cant variance in decision-making errors over and above pun-
ishment sensitivity, b
2
= .221, SE = .075, p < .01. Finally, the
Ta b l e 4 Study 4: Effects of Reinforcement Sensitivities on Threat Detection, Processing Time, and Decision-Making Errors
Threat Detection
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
b SE b SE b SE
Intercept, b
0ij
–0.04 .208 –0.04 .208 –0.02 .213
Punishment sensitivity, b
1
.560** .244 .601** .252 .607** .260
Reward sensitivity, b
2
.135 .241 .139 .247
PS ¥ RS, b
3
.139 .292
Processing Time
Intercept, b
0ij
6631.91 300.73 6631.91 299.48 6438.05 297.07
Punishment sensitivity, b
1
–392.29 317.10 –455.25 319.59 –395.66 311.40
Reward sensitivity, b
2
–444.01 346.87 –273.49 341.28
PS ¥ RS, b
3
–1520.20** 455.79
Decision-Making Errors
Intercept, b
0ij
2.00 .066 2.00 .065 2.05 .063
Punishment sensitivity, b
1
.185** .070 .217* .069 .201* .066
Reward sensitivity, b
2
.221* .075 .176* .073
PS ¥ RS, b
3
.401** .097
Note. PS = punishment sensitivity; RS = reward sensitivity.
**p < .01. *p < .05.
Figure 3 Study 4: Interaction between punishment sensitivity and reward
sensitivity predicting processing time.
Hardy, Bell, & Beattie10
PS ¥ RS interaction term significantly predicted variance in
decision-making errors over and above the main effects,
b
3
= .401, SE = .097, p < .01 (see Table 4 for details). Using
the Preacher et al. (2006) software to further explore the inter-
action revealed that the slope for high reward sensitivity was
significant and positive, t(193) = 5.28, p < .01, whereas the
slope for low reward sensitivity was marginally nonsignificant
and negative, t(193) = –1.75, p = .08. This interaction is
depicted in Figure 4.
Discussion
The results confirmed the findings from Study 3 that mental
toughness is positively related to punishment sensitivity when
reward sensitivity is low but negatively related to punishment
sensitivity when reward sensitivity is high. The second aim of
Study 4 was to offer some explanation for these somewhat
counterintuitive relationships. As predicted, punishment sensi-
tivity was positively related to early threat detection. Further-
more, the combination of high punishment sensitivity with
high reward sensitivity was associated with shorter processing
times during decision making, but significantly more decision-
making errors. The most parsimonious explanation for these
findings seems to be that high levels of punishment sensitivity
coupled with high levels of reward sensitivity result in some
sort of conflict that causes a speed-accuracy trade-off, which
results in poor decision making.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
The purpose of the present series of studies was to (a) develop
a measure of mentally tough behavior and (b) examine the
ability of rRST to predict between-person differences in
mental toughness. Studies 1 and 2 were concerned with the
development of a valid, informant-rated questionnaire to
measure mental toughness from a behavioral perspective. The
results of the confirmatory factor analyses from Studies 1 and
2 found good support for the structural integrity of the eight-
item MTI. Furthermore, the eight scenarios described in the
items of the MTI have all been shown to be stressful to per-
formers in previous research (see, e.g., Woodman & Hardy,
2001), thereby offering some evidence of its content validity.
With regard to the application of relevant personality theory,
the results of Studies 3 and 4 suggested that the relationship
between rRST and mental toughness is a somewhat complex
one. In particular, the most interesting finding of the present
research was that cricketers rated as mentally tough by their
coaches tended to be sensitive to punishment cues but insensi-
tive to reward cues. Although counterintuitive at first sight, this
finding was replicated in a separate sample of highly talented
young cricketers. Further examination revealed that punish-
ment sensitivity was significantly related to early threat
detection, which might explain some of the positive effects
associated with punishment sensitivity. That is, individuals who
are sensitive to punishment are predisposed to pick up threat
early, and this provides them with the time to plan effective
responses to pressurized situations. Although the finding of
performance benefits associated with trait anxious (high pun-
ishment sensitive, low reward sensitive) performers may seem
implausible to some readers, it is not unprecedented and a
number of researchers have demonstrated such effects, espe-
cially in experienced and/or high-achieving performers (for a
review, see Woodman & Hardy, 2001). While not wishing to
suggest that anxiety is simply the polar opposite of confidence,
the present findings with regard to punishment sensitivity and
early threat detection do present something of a challenge for
cognition-based approaches to mental toughness that promote
the importance of self-confidence as a central component of
mental toughness (e.g., Clough & Strycharczyk, 2012).
One surprising result from Study 4 was the shorter process-
ing times (admittedly coupled with larger numbers of errors)
associated with the combination of high punishment sen-
sitivity and reward sensitivity. Previous RST research (e.g.,
Kambouropoulos & Staiger, 2004) has found that the greatest
levels of behavioral inhibition occur for individuals who report
high scores on EPQ-derived punishment sensitivity and reward
sensitivity. However, the letter identification task used in
Kambouropoulos and Staiger (2004) was more akin to a threat
detection task, where certain letters were associated with large
punishments so that they would serve as aversive stimuli. It
was only when these threat-loaded letters were presented that
the increases in behavioral inhibition occurred. This type of
letter identification task is qualitatively different from the
decision-making task used in Study 4. The difference between
the tasks might explain why high levels of punishment sensi-
tivity combined with high levels of reward sensitivity resulted
in fast response times in the present study and slow response
times in Kambouropoulos and Staiger’s study. More perti-
nently, in both studies, the performance of individuals high in
punishment and reward sensitivity was impaired compared to
individuals with other combinations of reinforcement sensi-
Figure 4 Study 4: Interaction between punishment sensitivity and reward
sensitivity predicting decision-making rrrors.
Mental Toughness 11
tivities. Kambouropoulos and Staiger (2004) reported that uni-
versity students were slower to identify target letters, and in the
present investigation, cricketers made more decision-making
errors. The present authors posit that the poor performance
under pressure occurred because of poor decision making
under pressure due to reinforcement conflict.
One important distinction between the paradigm used by
the present research and that used by most previous mental
toughness research is that we have attempted to identify the
reinforcement sensitivity (neurocognitive) profiles of mentally
tough cricketers, and then the cognitive processes that such
cricketers engage in, not the cognitions, attitudes, and affect
associated with mental toughness. If these three approaches of
identifying the reinforcement sensitivity profiles, cognitions,
attitudes, and affect and the cognitive processes underpinning
mentally tough behavior were integrated, then they could yield
insightful implications for talent identification and develop-
ment programs with regard to mental toughness.
Another novel aspect of the current research is its focus on
the interactive relationship between punishment and reward
sensitivity. Traditionally, rRST research has examined only
the independent relationships of punishment and/or reward
sensitivity with an outcome variable. Until now, interactions
between punishment and reward systems have been largely
ignored. An examination of the interactive relationship at play
is warranted because recently theorists have argued that the
effect of a stimulus on behavior depends not only on the
strengths of the stimulus and the reactivity of the system that it
activates, but also on the strength of competing systems (Corr,
2001). Joint effects are hypothesized to occur in environments
containing mixed appetitive/aversive stimuli and where rapid
attentional and behavioral shifts between reinforcing stimuli
are required. This is especially pertinent to the present studies
because the dependent variable of interest was essentially
performance under pressure, and pressurized environments
almost always contain mixed appetitive and aversive stimuli.
While the findings of the present research are suggestive
of some neurocognitive structures that might be involved in
mental toughness, what is really required is a much more
detailed understanding of the cognitive neuroscience of mental
toughness, together with appropriate psychophysiological
and behavioral markers. One interesting future direction for
research would be to use such functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) techniques to examine the neural networks
involved in mental toughness. Such research would be of inter-
est to both mental toughness researchers and RST and other
personality researchers.
LIMITATIONS
A number of limitations are evident in the present research.
First, punishment and reward sensitivity were measured indi-
rectly using Corr’s (2001) rotations of the Eysenckian axes.
Furthermore, our measurement of punishment sensitivity does
not differentiate between the involvement of the FFFS and the
involvement of the BIS. Unfortunately, there is at present no
solution to this problem. Nevertheless, the finding that punish-
ment sensitivity is associated with mental toughness as
assessed by the coaches of high-level cricketers was replicated
and remains interesting.
Second, our measure of mental toughness was very nar-
rowly conceptualized as the ability to perform well in the face
of pressure from a wide range of different stressors, and no
objective measures of performance were used. Having said
that, our informant-rated measure of mental toughness was
well validated and does at least avoid the single-source data
problem that has plagued the existing mental toughness litera-
ture. Furthermore, the authors would argue that most objective
measures of performance are confounded by ability, so that the
development of objective measures of mental toughness is not
an easy problem to resolve.
Third, our measures of early threat detection and behavioral
inhibition are relatively crude, and this aspect of our research
could be greatly improved using more sophisticated designs
and (fMRI) techniques. Nevertheless, the fact that we obtained
significant results in the hypothesized directions using such
crude measures is heartening.
CONCLUSION
In summary, the present program of research developed a
novel measure of mentally tough behavior and presented rep-
licable evidence that, in high-level cricketers, mentally tough
behavior is associated with high punishment sensitivity and
low reward sensitivity. The most parsimonious explanation for
the pattern of results obtained is that high punishment sensi-
tive, low reward sensitive cricketers are predisposed to identify
threat early, which gives them the best possible opportunity to
plan an effective response to the pressurized environments
they encounter. At another level, the present research program
points to the possibility of integrating neurocognitive
approaches with the more social cognitive approaches that
have previously been used to study mental toughness.
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Mental Toughness 13
... It is also recognized as a dimension of conscientiousness which consists of working diligently towards subordinate goals over long periods of time (Duckworth and Gross, 2014). MT and grit share a theoretical basis of perseverance, but they are different on two criterions .: First, MT varies across time and circumstances between various individuals, whereas grit is a dispositional trait that replicates perseverance and passion across time and circumstances (McAdams, 2013) and second, grit is focused towards one single objective goal (Wenner and Randall, 2016) whereas MT is oriented towards goal-directed pursuits that embody multiple goals (Hardy et al., 2014). ...
... Middleton et al. (2011) "Unshakeable perseverance and conviction towards some goal despite pressure or adversity" 10 Clough and Strycharczyk (2012) "The quality which determines in large part how people deal effectively with challenge, stressors and pressure, irrespective of prevailing circumstances" 11Hardy et al. (2014) "Mental toughness is the ability to achieve personal goals in the face of pressure from a wide range of different stressors"12Gucciardi et al. (2015) "A personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of subjective (e.g., personal goals or strivings) or objective performance (e.g., sales, race time, GPA) despite everyday challenges and stressors as well as significant adversities" 13 Carver (2016) "The capacity of an individual to deal effectively with stressors, pressure, challenges and perform to the best of their abilities irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves" 14 Cowden (2016) "A multidimensional construct, comprising innate and learned personal resources, that facilitate the consistent performance optimisation and pursuit of excellence despite exposure to positive and negative situational demands"15Cowden (2016, p. 2) "A collection of reasonably stable, advantageous characteristics that facilitate positive responses to the demands and pressures of sport participation"16Jaeschke et al. (2016, p. 251) "The ability to persist and utilise mental skills to overcome perceived physical, psychological, emotional, and environmental obstacles in relentless pursuit of a goal"17Sorensen et al. (2016) "A resistance to psychological disintegration under stress" ...
Purpose Time and again, scholars have emphasized the vitality of mental toughness for success in performance-oriented contexts. Despite the awareness about the significance of mental toughness, there is ambiguity in the conceptual consensus of the factors that comprise of the construct in an organizational setup. Second, there is a dearth of a psychometrically sound measure that assesses mental toughness among employees. Design/methodology/approach The study follows a multi-method approach to develop a mental toughness questionnaire. First, to arrive at a consensus of the factors that construe mental toughness, a meta-ethnography was done. Subsequently, a measure of mental toughness was developed and tested following scale development norms. Findings Drawing from the results of qualitative inquiry, four factors of mental toughness were derived, namely, perseverance, control, challenge and commitment. Then, the scale development process was followed. Results of psychometric testing using three samples were above the acceptable range, justifying the use of developed scale for academic and professional purposes. Originality/value This study is a novel attempt in the literature to extract factors of mental toughness through meta-ethnography and consequently develop a scale.
... For example, Jones (2002) defines mental toughness as having better coping skills, especially for the demands imposed by sports (e.g., tough competition, training, and lifestyle), and being more consistent, determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure than his competitors. According to Hardy, Bell, and Beattie (2014) mental toughness is the ability to achieve personal goals under pressure and various stress factors. Middleton, Martin, and Marsh (2012) define it as unwavering determination and belief in a goal despite pressure or negativity. ...
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Emotional eating is the act of eating to cope with stress and pressure, and it is assumed that this behavior increases as the level of self-control decreases. Several factors, including anxiety about winning and fear of injury, can cause stress in athletes. An athlete's high mental toughness is closely related to their ability to easily cope with such stress factors. It is still a matter of curiosity how negative psychological factors affect emotional eating in athletes with low mental toughness. This study investigated the relationship between emotional eating and mental toughness in female wrestlers. Emotional Eating Questionnaire and Sports Mental Toughness Questionnaire were applied to 69 female wrestlers. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, T-test, ANOVA, and Pearson correlation tests. It was found that the participants were low emotional eaters and accepted all of the mental toughness sub-dimensions. There was a significant difference in emotional eating total score and "disinhibition" score according to nationality status (p<0.05). The findings suggested a positive and significant relationship between sub-dimensions of emotional eating and sub-dimensions of mental toughness (p<0.05). It was concluded that national female wrestlers tended to eat more emotionally than non-national athletes and had more difficulty preventing the urge to eat. As female wrestlers' mental toughness levels increased, they tended to eat emotionally and felt guilty about eating.
... Mental toughness is related to success and progression in sport and is described as a personal capacity to consistently produce good performances despite varying situational demand levels (Gucciardi et al., 2015). While the debate concerning the nature of the construct continues, most researchers argue that mental toughness is a reasonably stable and enduring disposition that is unlikely to change rapidly (Hardy et al., 2014). A range of mental toughness models have been proposed (Clough et al., 2002;Cook et al., 2014;Gucciardi et al., 2008). ...
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... Through mental toughness (Ruparel, 2020), they intentionally place themselves outside of their comfort zones to address work and life demands. Through understanding and managing one's emotions, mentally agile individuals are better able to shift more rapidly from feeling ill at ease to eventually becoming more comfortable (Hardy et al., 2014). Through curiosity, research, and exploration, they can increase knowledge and create future options (Daw et al., 2006). ...
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This book provides an updated theory of the nature of anxiety and the brain systems controlling anxiety, combined with a theory of hippocampal function, which was first proposed thirty years ago. While remaining controversial, the core of this theory, of a 'Behavioural Inhibition System', has stood the test of time, with its main predictions repeatedly confirmed. Novel anti-anxiety drugs share none of the side effects or primary pharmacological actions of the classical anti-anxiety drugs on the actions of which the theory was based; but they have both the behavioural and hippocampal actions predicted by the theory. This text is the second edition of the book and it departs significantly from the first. It provides, for the first time, a single construct - goal conflict - that underlies all the known inputs to the system; and it includes current data on the amygdala. Its reviews include the ethology of defence, learning theory, the psychopharmacology of anti-anxiety drugs, anxiety disorders, and the clinical and laboratory analysis of amnesia. The cognitive and behavioural functions in anxiety of the septo-hippocampal system and the amygdala are also analysed, as are their separate roles in memory and fear. Their functions are related to a hierarchy of additional structures - from the prefrontal cortex to the periaqueductal gray - that control the various forms of defensive behaviour and to detailed analysis of the monoamine systems that modulate this control. The resultant neurology is linked to the typology, symptoms, pre-disposing personality and therapy of anxiety and phobic disorders, and to the symptoms of amnesia. © Jeffrey A. Gray and Neil McNaughton 2000 , 2003. All rights reserved.
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One of the major neuropsychological models of personality, developed by world-renowned psychologist Professor Jeffrey Gray, is based upon individual differences in reactions to punishing and rewarding stimuli. This biological theory of personality - now widely known as ‘Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory’ (RST) - has had a major influence on motivation, emotion and psychopathology research. In 2000, RST was substantially revised by Jeffrey Gray, together with Neil McNaughton, and this revised theory proposed three principal motivation/emotion systems: the ‘Fight-Flight-Freeze System’ (FFFS), the ‘Behavioural Approach System’ (BAS) and the ‘Behavioural Inhibition System’ (BIS). This is the first book to summarise the Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of personality and bring together leading researchers in the field. It summarizes all of the pre-2000 RST research findings, explains and elaborates the implications of the 2000 theory for personality psychology and lays out the future research agenda for RST.