Mental Toughness Positively Associated With Goal Achievement, Researchers Say

by Jack Marooney, Kenyon ’18

Regardless of occupation, age, or social status, all people can relate to the difficulty of achieving ideal performance under challenging circumstances. Being able to brush off the stress of a demanding situation and produce desirable results is often referred to as ‘mental toughness.’

Mental toughness is commonly applied in a sports context, like when the main character in the stereotypical feel-good sports movie overcomes all odds to win the big game. However, mental toughness as a concept is applicable to broad range of contexts, including education. The average college student utilizes mental toughness when they deny the gratification of going out with friends on a Friday night and instead study for a difficult test. Examples of mental toughness can also be highlighted in both workplace and military environments. Despite pervasive mentions and implications of mental toughness, the term lacks a substantive definition.

A recent study by Gucciardi et al. in the Journal of Personality aimed to produce a working definition of mental toughness. The study also sought to characterize features of mental toughness, including whether or not it could be recognized as a trait or a product of certain situations. Additionally, the researchers examined if the traditional positive association between mental toughness and successful performance, as well as the negative relationship between mental toughness and stress levels, would be affirmed. The study consisted of five smaller studies, each aimed at addressing a subcomponent of mental toughness.

The first study focused on creating a composite definition of mental toughness that incorporated definitions and concepts from previous research. The researchers organized focus groups and polls with a combined 30 experts in fields related to mental toughness, including researchers, students, athletes, coaches, and businesspeople. The researchers used this consultation and sampling of experts to eliminate terms unrelated to mental toughness, and create a working definition of the term that was both face and content valid (meaning that it both seemed valid, and covered all of the theoretically relevant material). Ultimately, Gucciardi et al. (2015) defined mental toughness as a “personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of subjective (e.g. personal goals or strivings) or objective performance (e.g. sales, race time, GPA) despite everyday challenges and stressors as well as significant adversities” (p. 28).

The second study developed an eight-item measure of mental toughness. This study highlighted mental toughness as unidimensional, rather than multidimensional. This means that mental toughness can be identified as a unique characteristic, rather than a factor that is multidetermined, or dependent on the existence of other characteristics. The third study implemented the recently-developed measure of mental toughness to evaluate whether mental toughness was correlated with stress or workplace performance. The researchers surveyed the stress levels of friends, and then had the participants’ work supervisors report on their performance.

Ultimately the researchers found that mental toughness was directly associated with positive reports from supervisors, and that those who had higher levels of mental toughness were less likely to be stressed and more likely to have better stress coping methods. Apparently, the commonly-held belief that mental toughness breeds success has some statistical basis.

The fourth study explored the relationship between mental toughness and psychological health. Researchers surveyed both the presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative symptoms of mental health in order to test their prediction that mental toughness would be positively related to psychological health. Ultimately, mental toughness emerged as a good predictor of not only negative emotional states, but also positive emotions. Additionally, researchers asserted that both differences between and within people contribute to the level of mental toughness realized in a given situation. This finding is consistent with the notion that it is neither the person nor the situation that determines a person’s behavior, but rather the interaction of the two factors. Furthermore, the researchers indicated that mental toughness operates on a continuum, rather than being a dichotomous variable. Thus some people have greater mental toughness than others, as opposed to either having or not having mental toughness.

Having already shown that mental toughness is positively correlated with successful performance, the final study analyzed whether mental toughness predicted sustained performance. Interestingly enough, the researchers framed this study within the context of a military selection test. The results indicated not only that a significant association existed between mental toughness and passing the selection test, but also that this association existed even while considering additional factors like self-efficacy (an individual’s belief that they can control their own behavior).

Overall, this study provided a wealth of knowledge on mental toughness, although it was not without its flaws. Weaknesses of note include a dependence on self-report data as well as a lack of causal framework. Although self-report data is easy and cheap to obtain, asking an individual about their own characteristics can be subject to bias or lies. Regarding causality, the researchers used exclusively correlational designs. All five studies did not incorporate active manipulation of a variable or the random assignment of participants to varying conditions. This is no fault of the researchers, since you cannot manipulate participants’ mental toughness, but it does prevent them from claiming, for example, that being high in mental toughness causes individuals to be successful in the workplace.

For all five of the studies, the sample size consisted of entirely ‘white collar’ workers. This sampling choice omits a significant portion of the population, notably individuals who perform physically demanding occupations. One direction for future research could examine variations in mental toughness between job types or socio-economic status. Cross-cultural differences in mental toughness would also be worth examining.

However, this study did generate a straightforward definition of mental toughness, which is no small feat. More than anything, the researchers demonstrated that mental toughness is not just a term used to describe a composition of traits. So the next time a friend questions your choice not to go out for drinks, tell them you are exercising mental toughness and point them in the direction of this article.

References

Gucciardi, D. F., Hanton, S., Gordon, S., Mallett, C. J., & Temby, P.  (2015). The concept of mental toughness: Tests of dimensionality, nomological network, and traitness. Journal of Personality, 83, 26-44.

Different Language, Different Perception of Personality?

by Paige Ballard, Kenyon ’18

The language you speak affects many aspects of your life, including – according to recent research – your personality. Psychologists Chen, Benet-Martínez, and Ng looked at whether what language Chinese-English bilinguals spoke affected their personality perception.

Much of this study relies on the idea of “dialectical thinking,” so let’s get defining that out of the way. Essentially, dialectical thinking is the acceptance of contradicting, ambiguous, or inconsistent information. It is largely tied to Eastern philosophy, and pops up again and again when looking at cultural differences between East and West. From proverbs to arguments to self-descriptions, Easterners tend to be okay with things not quite lining up. Westerners, on the other hand, have low dialectical thinking – they like everything to make sense and stay the same.

The researchers predicted that speaking Chinese would draw out these dialectical thinking tendencies – the tendency not to force everything to fit together into one cohesive whole. That means that they thought Chinese speakers would notice more differences in personality and behavior (both in themselves and in others).

In order to test this, the researchers first had to test whether speaking a different language really does elicit different levels of dialectical thinking. They did so by recruiting college students who could speak both English and Chinese. They gave these participants a test measuring their dialectical thinking in both languages. Lo and behold, higher levels were found when responding in Chinese. When different participants were randomly assigned to respond in either Chinese or English, the Chinese group once again showed higher dialectical thinking.

Previous research has shown that there is a cultural difference in dialectical thinking– Chinese people tend to be more tolerant of contradictions than Americans – but this study goes one step further. In the exact same people, its level changes depending on which language they are speaking.

This study also looked at whether what language the questions were in affected how participants rated personalities. In both Chinese and English, participants rated their own personality, as well as the personalities of “typical” native Chinese and English speakers. Researchers then calculated how different all these ratings were from each other. They found that differences were significantly higher in Chinese than in English – participants responding in Chinese were more likely to assign different personalities to different people, than were those responding in English.

So the researchers had it pretty locked down that these differences exist, on paper at least. But what about in actual interactions between people? Do these results carry over into behavior?

To test this, participants spoke with research assistants in English and in Chinese. They were then asked if they thought they behaved any differently when they were speaking one language or the other. Those who were higher in dialectical thinking were more likely to report that they were acting differently in the two situations. The researchers, the other half of the conversation, was also more likely to report high behavioral differences in high dialectical thinking participants. The same is also true of observers who just watched a video of the participant speaking.

Now that seems like a lot of ratings, but hear me out. Not only do participants think that they are acting differently in different situations, but strangers, people watching these random conversations, also see the participant acting differently. They’re actually changing in some significant, noticeable way depending on what language they are speaking.

All this discussion of language and behavior and “dialectical thinking” circles around one main idea – culture affects how we act. It’s as simple as that. Well, sorta.

Using a certain language evokes aspects of its connected culture. When you speak Chinese, you’re more likely to act in accordance with Eastern culture (have high dialectical thinking, be more okay with contradictions). And when you speak English, you’re more likely to act in accordance with Western culture (have lower dialectical thinking, what things to be consistent).

Now this study is not without its faults. All of the participants were bilinguals, which may in and of itself account for higher perception of differences. Bilingualism alone does not, however, explain away the differences within this group of bilinguals. There is also, however, the fact that the participants were Chinese. They did have to know English well to be selected for this study, but the possibility remains that their (presumably) higher fluency in Chinese accounted for the more complex and varied reports of personality. Maybe they simply didn’t have as firm a grasp of the English language, and therefore couldn’t account for its nuances.

Either way, this study looks at how you see yourself, how you see others, even how you act – and it finds that culture, as drawn to the surface by what language you’re speaking, affects all of those things. Your culture has a lot to say about who you are, and language is a big part of that.

References

Chen, S. X., Benet-Martínez, V., & Ng, J. C. K. (2014). Does language affect personality perception? A functional approach to testing the Worfian hypothesis. Journal of Personality, 82(2), 130-143. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12040

You’re Not Dead Yet: Personality Can Still Change in Old Age

by Eliza Abendroth, Kenyon ’18
oldpeople

Photo Public Domain from Pixabay

It’s fairly clear that an individual’s personality changes throughout the course of their lifetime, but most of the studies demonstrating that change only account for certain ages. Previous studies that have been really successful in looking at personality change over the lifespan failed to obtain significant amounts of old-aged adults as part of their samples (e.g., Lucas & Donnellan, 2011; Roberts & Delvecchio, 2000). Researchers Kandler, Kornadt, Hagemeyer, and Neyer decided to try and fill the informational age gap. Their work attempted to answer some of the underlying psychological questions that explain phenomena everyone witnesses, such as “Why does Grandma hate everything from the 21st century?” In their longitudinal study of twin pairs aged 64 to 89, Kandler and his colleagues found that contrary to what previous studies might suggest due to their lack of age-range, adults in later life still experience significant personality change.

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Post-Performance Activation: No Longer an Afterthought

by Jesse Bogacz, Kenyon ’18

Stereotypes and racism have plagued the United States since it’s founding.  At the core of stereotypes is the desire for one group to marginalize and minimize those who are different from them.  To not allow for the acknowledgment of these groups as “normal” and as capable as the ruling group, white men.  Naturally, researchers have devoted a lot of time to studying the effects of stereotypes on the mental health of minorities.  However, a predominant amount of these studies have focused on simply the effects of stereotypes.  Hardly any tests have focused on post-performance activation.  The researchers Thiem, Stuart, Barden, and Evans decided to focus on the effects of stereotypes after participants were given an intellectual test.  The comparisons of the participants’ evaluations would be the base of their research. The researchers also drew upon the self-validation hypothesis, which states that individuals are more likely to change their opinions after seeing evidence against their stance.

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Global Citizenship and the Ethics of Consumerism

by Brianna Levesque, Kenyon ’17

You are a citizen of your town, your state, and your country: but do you consider yourself a citizen of the world? Could whether or not you identify as a global citizen have an economic impact based upon the items you choose to buy? A recent study by researchers Gerhard Reese and Fabienne Kohlman set out to discover how defining citizenship in a global context affected the choices people made at the check-out stand. Their hypothesis was that those who more strongly identified as citizens of the world consequently were more likely to purchase fairtrade items as opposed to conventional items.

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How Agreeable and Open and Religious People Compared to Others?

by Jia He, Kenyon ’17

Are religious people really more friendly, kind, and accepting than the average person? In the field of psychology, there has been much speculation in regard to how religiousness may intersect with certain personality traits. People who report religion and spirituality as a huge aspect of their lives have consistently reported higher scores on the Agreeableness and Openness to Experience facets in the Big Five personality inventory. But seeing that such results are often obtained through self-reports, one is inclined to question whether the link between religion and these traits is real or exaggerated by religious people who value Agreeableness and Openness as traits that they wish to possess.

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Academic and Life Domains: How We Are Motivated

by Andrew Weinert, Kenyon ’17

According to Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan at the University of Rochester, autonomous motivation is a major predictor of persistence and adherence and is very advantageous for deep-thinking tasks that involve a lot of processing (Deci & Ryan). In other words autonomous motivation is explicitly related to goal progress. Like autonomous motivation, specific personality traits are also a major predictor of goal setting and the attainment of these goals. For instance, someone very low in conscientiousness may not set a goal to clean his or her room because this does not complement the individual’s personality trait of low conscientiousness. Likewise, the goal of traveling the world would complement the personality trait of someone who is high in openness. Personality traits and autonomous motivation, however, do not necessarily need to be independent of one another.

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