The influence of self-talk on challenge and threat states and performance

Adrian Hase, Jacob Hood, Lee Moore, Paul Freeman

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A psychophysiological response called a challenge state has been associated with better performance than a threat state. However, to date, challenge-promoting interventions have rarely been tested. Therefore, this study investigated whether instructional and/or motivational self-talk promoted a challenge state and improved task performance.


A three-group, randomised-controlled experimental design was used.


Sixty-two participants (52 males, 10 females; Mage = 24 years, SD = 6) were randomly assigned to one of three self-talk groups: instructional, motivational, or control (verbalising trial number). Participants performed four dart-throwing tasks. Cognitive and cardiovascular measures of challenge and threat states were recorded before the first and final task.


The motivational, but not the instructional group, improved their performance between the first and final tasks more than the control group. Self-talk had no effect on the cognitive or cardiovascular challenge and threat measures. However, evaluating the task as more of a challenge (coping resources match/exceed task demands) was related to better performance. Cardiovascular reactivity more reflective of a challenge state (higher cardiac output and/or lower total peripheral resistance reactivity) was more positively related to performance in the motivational than in the control group, and in the control than the instructional group.


Motivational self-talk improved performance more than control self-talk. Furthermore, motivational self-talk may have strengthened, whereas instructional self-talk may have weakened, the relationship between challenge and threat states and performance. Hence, athletes in a challenge state may benefit from motivational self-talk, whereas those in a threat state may profit from instructional self-talk.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101550
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date14 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


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