Motivational and emotional effects of social comparison in sports

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The comparison to other athletes and the resulting effects on emotion, motivation and effort investment are a natural and integral part of sports performance. The current study tested a bias toward upward comparison in athletes. Further it tested how comparison processes influence motivation (i.e., self-improvement motivation, coasting, disengagement), emotion (e.g. happiness and shame) and performance improvement as a behavioral measure of effort. Freshmen from an elite sport university volunteered to participate in an experience sampling study conducted over one semester (6 months). Contrary to our predictions, athletes did not generally compare more upward than downward, and only few subscales of the two sport-specific dispositional measures (sport-specific achievement motivation and sport orientation) predicted upward comparison. As hypothesized, upward comparison to moderately better standards was associated with greater motivation while extreme upward comparison was related to a drop in motivation and increased disengagement. Still, upward comparison during the semester significantly predicted performance at the end of the semester. Downward comparison was related to coasting motivation and lower levels of performance. Happiness decreased with upward and increased with downward comparison. The opposite was true for feelings of shame. This research emphasizes the role of the social environment in sports and how training partners depending on their inferiority or superiority can boost or hinder motivation and performance in athletes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102048
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Publication statusPublished - 01.11.2021

ID: 6163162

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