The effect of cognitive strategies on endurance performance

Oswald, Peter J (1994) The effect of cognitive strategies on endurance performance. Research Master thesis, Victoria University of Technology.


Subjectively perceived pain or effort is a major factor which limits endurance performance. It has been claimed that cognitive strategies can mediate perceived effort and enhance endurance performance (Morgan & Pollock, 1977). These authors have suggested that association, focusing on bodily sensations and race related stimuli, is the most effective strategy for elite marathon runners. On the other hand, Pennebaker and Lightner (1980) found a dissociative strategy, distracting attention from bodily signals, to be more effective with college students. The purpose of the present study was to examine the effect of association and dissociation on rated perceived exertion and subsequent performance on an endurance activity. Subjects were 33 male volunteers, aged 17 to 34 (mean=23.0, SD=4.39), who were involved in regular aerobic exercise from jogging to marathon and triathlon. Maximal aerobic power (MAP) was determined for each subject by a treadmill run to exhaustion. Subjects subsequently completed two further treadmill runs to exhaustion, with the treadmill set at a pace equivalent to 80% MAP. For the first of these runs, subjects were simply instructed to run to exhaustion, producing baseline measures. For the second run, subjects were randomly assigned to an associative, dissociative or control group, from triads matched for MAP. Associative condition subjects were given instructions that drew attention to bodily signals and they were asked to report on these at random intervals. Dissociative condition subjects watched a video as they ran and were asked questions about it and other non-run-related matters at random intervals. Control subjects ran as for the baseline condition. At the end of each run global rated perceived exertion (RPE) was elicited for the run and subjects completed a Cognitive Strategies Questionnaire (CSQ), while their run time was noted. Mean cognitive strategy scores indicated that the manipulations were successful. Subjects' strategy scores moved in the direction consistent with their group membership. Results show that the associative group reported experiencing significantly more effort (RPE) during the experimental run than the baseline run (F2,30=9.6, p<0.05). Neither the dissociative nor the control subjects reported a significant change in RPE. Run time to exhaustion for the association group declined significantly in comparison to dissociative and control subjects (F2,30=10.12, p<0.05). It was concluded that an internal focus of attention enhanced perceived exertion and resulted in a deterioration in performance. The potential for pace adjustment is acknowledged as an essential feature of association. The use of an associative cognitive strategy, when pace adjustment is not possible, as on a fixed workload treadmill run, may lead to an increase in perception of effort or pain and a consequent reduced performance. This result has implications for inexperienced runners who do not know how to vary pace in response to bodily signals. The measurement of association and dissociation remains problematic.

Additional Information

Master of Applied Science

Item type Thesis (Research Master thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1106 Human Movement and Sports Science
Historical > FOR Classification > 1702 Cognitive Science
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Sport and Exercise Science
Keywords Endurance sports, performance, psychological aspects, physical fitness, cognitive strategies, dissociation, athletes
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