Experiencing defeat in competition: Cognitive appraisal, stress, and emotion regulation in competitors high and low in self-compassion


Performers in achievement domains inevitably have to manage losses and mistakes, but differ in their responses to these events. The purpose of this study was to examine if trait self-compassion predicted responses to a competition failure. Fifty-seven participants (28 male; Mage=21.46 years, SD=2.99) completed three computer-based "competitions" where outcome was controlled so they lost significantly more often than they won. Participants in the upper quartile comprised a "high self-compassion group" [HSCG; n=14 (6 male); self-compassion: M=3.98, SD=0.20], and those in the lowest quartile a "low self-compassion group" [LSCG; n=15 (6 male); self-compassion: M=2.20, SD=0.35]. HSCG demonstrated more adaptive responses to competition losses than LSCG. Prior to the competition, the low self-compassion group reported higher threat appraisals [t(27)=3.19] and stress [t(20.18)=2.60]. After the first competition, LSCG reported higher demands [t(27)=2.32] and stress [t(27)=3.74], and lower perceptions of resources [t(27)=-2.26]. After the second competition, LSCG reported higher demands [t(27)=2.47], threat appraisal [t(27)=3.02], and stress [t(27)=4.57]. LSCG also reported higher levels of stress after completing all competitions [t(27)=4.05]. A 2x4 repeated measures ANOVA indicated a significant group x time interaction for stress [F(120, 48)=1.66] and negative affect [F(96.44, 38.58)=1.65]. Participants low in self-compassion reported higher levels of negative affect prior to competition, after each competition, and at conclusion. HSCG reported engaging in more acceptance [t(27)= -3.61] and planning [t(27)=-3.62], and less catastrophizing [t(27)=6.76] and other blame [t(19.44)=2.66]. All results were significant (p< .05). Collectively, self-compassion is associated with adaptive emotion regulation strategies and lower threat appraisal and stress when experiencing defeat in competition.

Acknowledgments: Supported by the University of Alberta Human Performance Fund