In 2010 Williams, Cumming, & Balanos investigated
whether the use of imagery could manipulate the way in which an individual
viewed a stress-inducing situation and whether the physiological and
psychological factors associated with each response varied across situations. Twenty
participants (10 males, 10 females) were recruited for this study. Each
participant was involved in a club sport at the university where this study was
done. None of the participants smoked, had a family history of heart disease,
were ill, or took prescribed medication at the time the study was conducted. Before
collecting data, participants were asked to visit the laboratory to become
acclimated to the the equipment used to measure their physiological responses,
the tests they would complete following each script presented, and the most
effective way to implement imagery.

As for the procedure, the study began by connecting
the participants to the equipment used to measure their physiological
responses. For example, a participant was connected to a single lead
electrocardiogram to monitor his/her heart rate and a Doppler ultrasound to
measure his/her stroke volume. Cardiovascular output was also recorded, but it
was calculated by using the formula: HR (heart rate) x SV (stroke volume), so
equipment for that particular variable was unnecessary. After being connected
to the equipment, participants were asked to relax so the researchers could
obtain a baseline value, which helped them distinguish differences in the
dependent variables. Then, participants were presented with an automated
recording of a challenge script, a threat script, or a neutral script that lasted
for 3 minutes in duration. This study used a within-subjects design, so each
participant experienced all 3 scripts. Following each script, participants were
asked to relax, which the researchers identified as the recovery phase. Once
the recovery phase was complete, the participants completed the Immediate
Anxiety Measurement Scale (IAMS), which measured the intensity and direction of
anxiety symptoms and self-confidence; the post script evaluation (PSE), which measured
whether the participant could generate the hypothetical scenario with ease, the
emotion experienced, whether the participant could relate to the scenario in a
meaningful way, and whether the participant found the scenario to be helpful; and
the cognitive appraisal of the imagery scripts, which measured the extent of
how each participant perceived the scenario. Following the study, the
participants were instructed to complete the post-experiment manipulation
check, which measured the script that would be most helpful in preparing
athletes for a real competition and the extent to which this particular procedure
could disrupt imagery.

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The results of this study revealed
several factors that coaches, teachers, etc. should take into consideration
when trying to improve an individual’s performance. For example, the results
indicated that the threat script was perceived as significantly less helpful
than either the challenge script or the neutral script. The threat script was
also perceived to be more threatening than the challenge script, which implies
that a threatening approach could reduce one’s performance level. The results
also indicated that during the challenging and threatening scripts, heart rate,
stroke volume, and cardiovascular output increased. Also, the challenge and
threat scripts produced higher levels of both cognitive and somatic anxiety;
however, this anxiety was considered beneficial for challenging scenarios
compared to threatening scenarios. Finally, participants felt more confident
after the challenge and neutral scripts compared to the threat scripts.
Overall, the results do not provide evidence that a situation one perceives to
be challenging can yield better performance. The results suggest that if one
feels they are self-efficient, are in control of the situation, and use a goal
achievement approach, the individual will deem a stress-inducing situation as a
challenge rather than as a threat, which may improve performance.

I found this particular study interesting
because I had a soccer coach in high school who utilized the imagery technique.
After experiencing this my sophomore year of high school, I incorporated this
technique into my preparation routine before both games and meets. I still use
the imagery technique, but I utilize it for other tasks in addition to
athletics. When I entered college, I developed a level of anxiety that I have
never experienced before. I continue to struggle with it, but one of my coping
strategies is to use imagery. Similar to what the researchers explained, I try
to approach stress-inducing situations with a goal set in mind. This goal
achievement approach keeps me on the right path and raises my confidence to a
certain degree when I accomplish a goal. However, there are some days when it
is difficult to incorporate this coping strategy. So, another variable that
could be evaluated for this particular study is one’s level of stress or
anxiety. An individual with a high level of anxiety may interpret a challenging
scenario as a threatening scenario compared to an individual with a moderate
level of anxiety or a low level of anxiety; therefore, individual differences
should be considered for future research regarding this topic.