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The role of emotions in cognitive and physical performance during competition among elite athletes

Research project What is the role of emotions for cognitive and physical performance among elite athletes?

Achieving sporting excellence requires athletes to successfully execute cognitive and physical tasks whilst experiencing intense emotions that can also influence performance outcomes. During competition, athletes must appraise situations, make decisions, and implement strategy; as physical fatigue increases, managing cognitive load and maintaining performance becomes more difficult. However, limited research has investigated athletes’ cognitive performance during competition. Moreover, athletes’ emotions during competition have not been empirically examined in relation to simultaneous cognitive and physical performance. This project aims to investigate the interaction of cognition, emotions, and physiological responses during performance of physical and cognitive tasks in competition.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2019-01-01 2020-12-31


The Swedish Research Council for Sport Science

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Psychology

Research area

Psychology, Sports and fitness sciences

Project description

Since athletes’ emotions during competition have not have been examined in relation to simultaneous cognitive and physical performance, the projects main questions are to investigate:

  1. How does fatigue influence simultaneous cognitive and physical performance?

  2. How does emotion regulation influence simultaneous cognitive and physical performance as well as perceptual cues associated with fatigue (i.e., perceived exertion)?

Twenty-five male and female elite athletes will undertake a randomized control trial with a crossover design of three trials (i.e., physical task, cognitive task, combined physical and cognitive task) with each trial will last 30 minutes. The physical task will be a cycling time trial; the cognitive task will be sport-based tests of attention, working memory, and decision making; and the combined task will overlie the cognitive task onto the physical task. During the trials athletes’ cognitive and physical performance, emotions, perceived exertion, heart rate, oxygen uptake, and blood lactate and glucose will be recorded. Recent research suggests sport performance can be optimized by minimizing cognitive load during competition and/or by increasing resilience to the negative effects of mental fatigue on perception of effort. However, these studies induce mental fatigue prior to completing physical tasks and do not examine cognitive load during physical performance or consider the role of emotions. The project aims to address limitations in previous research. In developing knowledge of how athletes’ emotions interact with cognitive and physical functioning during competition, sport excellence can be increased through enhancing approaches to training and optimizing athletes’ performance to achieve more international sporting success.

Latest update: 2019-10-15