Personality Characteristics of Competitive and Recreational Cyclists

Sports psychology has been currently undertaking studies which examine attributes that may cause varying athletic performance and success.  One such factor being studied intensively is personality characteristics.  Aspects of personality, along with other psychological considerations such as motivation, physical ability, stamina, and anxiety contribute heavily to the athletic performance.  “Certain personality characteristics have been consistently found in athletes, such as introversion, lower levels of cooperation and narcissistic personality characteristics” (Gat & McWhirter, 1998).  These characteristics, along with “iceberg” personality profile, are investigated in this study in regards to cyclists, who had previously not been examined in this respect.  It was noted by the researchers that “athletes with the ‘iceberg’ profile on the Profile of Mood States (POMS) scored lower than the population average on tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion, and above average on vigor” (Gat & McWhirter, 1998).  This study was designed with aims of aiding sports trainers and coaches enhance performance by identifying sport-specific personality traits.       The study hypothesized that competitive cyclists would score significantly higher in respect to introversion and confidence than would non-athletes; competitive cyclists would be less cooperative than recreational cyclists and non-athletes; and finally that competitive and recreational cyclists would resonate the ‘iceberg’ profile on the POMS while non-athletes would not.  All participants reflected these three groups: competitive cyclists, recreational cyclists or non-athletes, and these separate matched groups (according to age, education and income) consisted of 17 participants each.  There were twelve males and five females per group.  Participants were placed into groups according to strict definitions.           The psychological tests administered included the following: Personality Adjective Check List (PACL) 1987, Coolidge Axis II Inventory (CATI) 1992, and the Profile of Mood States (POMS) 1971.  The PACL is a 105-item adjective checklist that measures personality traits, specifically: introversion, inhibition, cooperativeness , sociability, confidence, forcefulness, respect and sensitivity.  “The PACL has demonstrated acceptable test-retest reliability ( r = .65) and strong internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = .82)” (Gat & McWhirter, 1998).  The CATI is an inventory based on thirteen personality disorders used for the assessment of personality disorders.  It is a 200-item self-report questionnaire.  “The 13 personality disorder scales of the CATI have good test-retest reliability (r = .90) and internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = .76)” (Gat & McWhirter, 1998).  The POMS is composed of a list of 65 words/ phrases describing moods or feelings which the subject ranks according to how they have been feeling that week.  It mainly measures “six mood states: tension, depression, anger, vigor, confusion, and overall mood . . . The POMS has strong test-retest reliability (r = .65); it has been reported as a good measure of the personality characteristics that are highly predictive of success in athletes of several different sports” (Gat & McWhirter, 1998).  The three separate groups of participants—competitive cyclists, recreational cyclists, and non-athletes—were recruited differently.  A pool of elite cyclists were first selected randomly from the United States Cycling Federation directory; 17 of which agreed to participate in the study.  Recreational cyclists were contacted through a cycling club if they meet the requirements of age and education, as it was a matched study.  Non-athletes were undergraduate psychology students who were invited to participate if they too matched the age and education of the elite cyclists.  Results varied according to personality trait:

As hypothesized, a significant difference between the three groups on the Confident  scale of the PACL emerged, F(2, 49) = 3.81, p = .03.  Fisher’s LSD test indicated that the elite cyclists (M = 54.76) scored significantly higher than the non-athletic group (M = 47. 47), suggesting higher levels of narcissistic-like personality traits within this group. . . The hypothesis that competitive cyclists would score significantly higher on the Introversion scale of the PACL was not corroborated, F(2,50) = .272, p = .76. . . The hypothesis that competitive cyclists would be less cooperative than the other two groups was confirmed.  An ANOVA on the Cooperative scale of the PACL revealed a significant difference between groups, F(2,50) = 4.51, p = .02.  Fisher’s LSD test indicated that the elite cyclists (M= 41.59) scored significantly lower than both the non-athletes (M= 53.82) and the recreational cyclists (M= 52.65) on this scale of the PACL. (Gat & McWhirter, 1998)

As competitive cyclists scored significantly higher in Confidence, this implies greater narcissistic characteristics in this group.  While the study found that introversion did not vary significantly between groups, the researchers clung to their hypothesis that it should have, and suggested that the participants were the cause of the difference.  They further implied that “introversion may be a characteristic found more frequently in highly competitive world-class cyclists and less so in elite cyclists of lower caliber” (Gat & McWhirter, 1998), suggesting that a more competitive participant group would have corresponded with the researchers’ hypothesis.  The study, on the significant findings that competitive cyclists were less cooperative than recreational cyclists and non-athletes, proposed that since “cycling is a solitary sport . . . most cyclists are motivated by their own individual achievements” (Gat & McWhirter, 1998).

            One critical review of the article was that the term iceberg was not clearly identified to the reader. In trying to determine the results of the iceberg profile, it was very unclear what it was testing for and what the results meant. Also, in the discussion of the article, the authors wrote about how their findings were inconsistent. The authors admitted that this might have been due to the “lack of sensitivity of the CAT” (Gat & McWhirter, 1998) and therefor “may not have registered differences with the current sample.” If this is the case and the sample was to blame, this problem should have been avoided from the beginning and a better sample of people should have been found for the study.  The third criticism is that while the PACL and POMS were explained in quite detail, the CATI was not defined as well. More information about the CATI should have been added to the article to make all the three tests perfectly clear to any reader.