The purpose of this research was to study the effect of mental construal on sport performance in order to closer examine the cognitive processes involved in imagery related interventions. We looked at the interaction of task context (i.e. different sport types) and mental construal as conceptualized by Construal Level Theory (CLT; Liberman et al., 2002). CLT suggests that mental representations are created on different levels of abstraction, dependent on and influenced by the distance of the provided information (e.g. spatial, temporal, social). Previous research has examined distance in relation to task demands: Abstraction seems to undermine analytical problem solving but increase motivation through emphasis on centrality, whereas concreteness can enhance response inhibition and flexibility of mental representations (for review, see Trope & Liberman, 2010).
Based on these findings, we conducted a within-between mixed-design experiment. We measured the performance of 29 varsity athletes (15 table tennis players/14 track&field - jumpers and throwers) at baseline, and then again after high and low construal level frames. We also collected information on individual construal level, and the athlete’s perceived satisfaction with both the intervention as well as their performance.
The interaction of construal level and task was found to be significant, with ‘fit’ effects in table tennis/low level frame and track&field/high level frame. A Friedman repeated-measures test resulted in X²(2, N=29)=8.36, p=.015. Post-hoc tests revealed a difference in fit/non-fit comparison (p=.008) and in the fit/baseline comparison (p=.012). This means that table tennis players under a low level frame performed better than no/high level frame, and jumpers and throwers improved in the high level condition.
With our study, we illustrated the interaction of sport type and imagery construal level, as it affects athletes’ performance compared to baseline. We discuss implications and propose future research for mental construal and its effects on performance.