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agreed to train their 1.1m personnel in this approach. The American Psychologist devoted a special issue to the topic, in which a comprehensive military fitness programme focusing on resilience training and positive psychology was outlined (Seligman & Fowler, 2011). The story is just beginning: positive psychology represents a fundamental paradigm shift in the discipline of psychology, with vast potential in preventative medicine and beyond. Interestingly, sport psychologists are now considering how they can integrate the concepts and methods of positive psychology into both organisational sport psychology and in applied practice for individuals (Park-Perin, 2010; Wagstaff et al., 2012).

Physical activity

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In 1988 the seminal journal in the field of sport psychology was renamed the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. This watershed moment within the field and the subsequent emergence of the interdisciplinary field of physical activity are attributable to a research paradigm that emerged from studies on the mood profiles of elite athletes. Bill Morgan’s discovery of the ‘iceberg profile’ was the landmark finding in the early forays into exercise research. In 1977 Morgan and Pollock reported that athletes scored below the norms on the negative indices (e.g. depression, fatigue, and anger) of the Profile of Mood States and above the norms on vigour (hence ‘the iceberg profile’). Furthermore, a body of research accumulated that, using this mood measure, linked positive mental health and successful sporting performance. Conversely, psychopathology and athletic success were

Park-Perin, G. (2010). Positive psychology. In S.J. Hanrahan & M. Andersen (Eds.) Routledge handbook of applied sport psychology (pp.141–149). New York: Routledge. Seligman, M.E.P. & Fowler, R.D. (2011). Comprehensive soldier fitness and the future of psychology. American Psychologist, 66(1), 82–86. Seligman, M.E.P., Nolen-Hoeksema, S.N., Thornton, N. & Thornton, K.M. (1990).

predicted to be inversely related. This was supported by findings that injured or over-trained athletes possessed inverted iceberg profiles. Not without criticism, reviewers highlighted problems with using a ‘state’ measure to make long-term predictions of athletic success. Nevertheless, this paradigm provided a more objective measure than had been previously conceived. The idea that physical activity could change mood had previously been catalogued largely in phenomological terms (e.g. ‘runnershigh’). A mental health model which had exercise at its core was established by Bill Morgan, stimulating research on the psychological effects of exercise. As a result, it is now readily accepted that exercise can be prescribed as an adjunct to other therapies in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, and that physical activity and exercise can act as a buffer against depression (Teychenne et al., 2010). Some of the non-specifics of therapeutic interventions can now be more clearly understood, like the impact of therapeutic lifestyle changes, including exercise and activity in natural environments (see Walsh, 2011).

in performance were from the PP/MP combined group. As a result, the general conclusion was that mental practice had a significant positive effect on motor-skill performance (see Driskell et al., 1994). Among the key researchers in imagery and action, who capitalised on the findings on mental practice, were Marc Jeannerod (1935–2011) and Jean Decety. They were concerned not with the effect of imagery per se, but on the exploring the nature of representation. Firstly, Jeannerod used imagery as a means of investigating the representation of action, postulating that imagery was essentially covert action, which led to the development of the field of motor cognition, a research domain that is concerned with understanding action (Jeannerod, 2006). Similarly, based on the neurocognitive evidence showing an overlap in the representation of action in self and others, social neuroscience evolved as a discipline in its own right (Decety & Sommerville, 2003). Mental practice itself has continued to generate interest among sport psychologists, neuroscientists and those involved in neurorehabiliation (see Moran et al., 2012).

Mental practice When William James wrote that we can learn to skate in summer and swim in winter, he was alluding to the power of our imagination or imagery processes on skill acquisition. For over a century this question intrigued researchers and it became a major research topic within sport psychology. As far back as 1943 Vandell et al. were investigating the function of mental practice in the acquisition of motor skills (Vandell et al., 1943). By the mid-1990s a number of meta-analytic reviews had synthesised the evidence from numerous independent studies. The findings were that a mental practice (MP) condition, although less effective than physical practice (PP) condition in motor-skill enhancement, was more effective than a control condition. Interestingly, the largest gains

Explanatory style as a mechanism of disappointing athletic performance. Psychological Science, 1(2), 143–146. Skinner, B. (1965). Science and human behavior. New York: Pearson. Teychenne, M., Ball, K. & Salmon, J. (2010). Physical activity, sedentary behavior and depression among disadvantaged women. Health Education Research, 25(4), 632–644. Thatcher, R., Thatcher, J., Day, M. et al.

read discuss contribute at

Beyond the podium The contributions outlined above demonstrate that while sport psychology didn’t give us sanitation, irrigation or roads (thanks Romans!), it has opened doors to new paradigms, spawned interdisciplinary domains, and offered us a window into the representation of action. The interdependency between the mother discipline and the field of research that encompasses the sport and exercise domain is now more fruitful than ever. When we see athletes take gold in the London Games, remember that sport and exercise psychology has a contribution far beyond the podium. I Tadhg MacIntyre is at the University of Ulster

(2009). Sport and exercise science. Exeter: Learning Matters. Vandell, R.A., Davis, R.A. & Clugston, H.A. (1943). The function of mental practice in the acquisition of motor skills. Journal of General Psychology, 29, 243–250. Wagstaff, C., Fletcher, D. & Hanton, S. (2012). Positive organizational psychology in sport. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24(1), 26–47.

Walker, G., Kremer, J. & Moran, A. (2006). Coming of age in sport psychology. Sport and Exercise Psychology Review, 2(1), 43–49. Walsh, R. (2011). Lifestyle and mental health. American Psychologist, 66(7), 579–592.


The Psychologist July 2012  

This is a preview of the July issue of The Psychologist, published by the British Psychological Society. The whole issue will be available i...

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