Submitted by Ms. Vasiliki Anagnostopoulos 1*, Michele M. Carter Ph.D 2*, and Carol Weissbrod Ph.D 3*

1*MA, Department of Psychology, American University, Washington, DC.

2* Professor, Department of Psychology, American University, Washington DC

3*Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, American University, Washington DC

Vasiliki received her BA from Princeton university where she was a varsity soccer athlete.  Since then she has earned her MA in Psychology from American University.  She is currently working on completing her dissertation under the direction of Dr. Carter.  She works primarily in the area of anxiety and related disorders and sport performance.


This study examined ethnic differences in the intensity and direction of pre-competition cognitive and somatic anxiety and self-confidence among Division I collegiate track and field men and women athletes.  At a regular season track meet participants from seven Division I schools were approached and agreed to complete survey questions addressing competitive anxiety and win orientation.  Study measures within three days of the event.  Results were first analyzed by gender.  It was found that the only difference between African American men and non-Hispanic Caucasian men athletes was that African American men reported lower cognitive direction scores than non-Hispanic Caucasian men. Among women, results indicated that African American women athletes reported less cognitive anxiety intensity and higher self-confidence than non-Hispanic Caucasian women.  Interestingly, results also indicated few differences between African American women athletes as compared to either group of men athletes.  Cultural factors are discussed that explain why African American women athletes are different from other groups.

Keywords: ethnicity, gender, competitiveness


Despite a steady increase in National College Athletic Association (NCAA) representation of African Americans over the last decade, from 25.7% of total NCAA athletes in 1999-00 to 30.3% in 2009-10 (NCAA, 2010), few sport and exercise psychologists have addressed issues of ethnicity in their research. This is particularly evident in track and field, where African Americans comprise approximately 28% of athletes.  Kamphoff and colleagues (2010), for example, reviewed conference abstracts and reported that only 10.5% of 5,214 conference program abstracts in the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) between 1986 and 2007 addressed the issue of diversity.  Given the paucity of research in general on potential ethnic differences, it is not surprising that there is little empirical data addressing the anxiety and confidence of men and women athletes from different cultural backgrounds. As such, potential ethnic and gender differences in athletic performance are important to address.

This study focused on the relationship between gender and ethnicity on collegiate track and field athletes’ perceived pre-competition anxiety, self-confidence, and competitiveness. Exploration of these variables may enable understanding of factors that differentially influence performance in men and women from diverse backgrounds and stimulate questions for further exploration about how sports participation may differentially effect or have different meaning for men and women athletes from different cultural groups.

Competitive State Anxiety and Self-Confidence

Research on competitive cognitive and somatic anxiety and self-confidence in sports has focused on the intensity and direction of these concepts and their impact on athletic performance. Jones, Swain, and Hardy (1993), for example, divided high-school-aged women gymnasts into “good” and “poor” performance groups. No differences were found between the two performance groups on the intensity scores of cognitive and somatic anxiety and self-confidence. The “good” performance group, however, viewed cognitive anxiety as more facilitative to performance as compared to those in the “poor” performance group. Another study examining basketball and volleyball players discovered that overall, only cognitive anxiety intensity was positively and moderately related to performance (Kais & Raudsepp, 2005). Finally, Chamberlain and Hale (2007) found that cognitive anxiety intensity and performance were significantly negatively correlated while self-confidence was positively associated with better performance.

To date, however, only one unpublished study has mentioned ethnic variations in these areas. Powell (2009) found that African American track athletes reported higher levels of competitiveness and desire to win than non-African American athletes. These conclusions are tenuous, however, since they were based on a small sample of ten African American athletes.

There is also evidence that gender differences exist in pre-competition anxiety, self-confidence, and sport orientation. Men athletes have reported higher competitiveness, win orientation, and goal orientation than women athletes (Braathen & Svebak, 1992; Gill & Deeter, 1988).  Moreover, men athletes report lower cognitive anxiety intensity scores and higher cognitive anxiety direction and self-confidence intensity than women athletes.  These differences, however, have been found only within non-Hispanic Caucasian (NHC) samples and may be less apparent in African American athletes.

Impact of Cultural and Gender Differences on Athletes’ Anxiety and Attitudes

Recently, Chalabaev, Sarrazin, Fontayne, Boiche, and Clement-Guillotin (2013) reviewed the literature on how stereotypes and gender roles influence athletic participation and performance. Emphasized were theoretical hypotheses of situational (rather than biological or internalization) factors that might influence men and women athletes’ mood states and attitudes.  Specifically, these authors focused on stereotype threat (Steele, 1997), a construct that suggests that the presence of stereotype information within a stereotyped domain, could negatively affect performance.  Hively and El-Alayi (2014) demonstrated the impact of stereotype threat in basketball and tennis tasks.  They found that women who were told that there was a gender difference on the tasks performed more poorly than those told there were no gender differences.  Also applicable is Eccles’ Expectancy Value Model (1983).  This model suggests that attitudes and behavior may depend on whether an individual expects success as a result of cultural stereotypes and norms and whether the performed behavior is intrinsically important and useful to the individual.  Given these theoretical perspectives, it is interesting for example, in a traditionally masculine domain such as sports, that masculinity is positively associated with athletic identification (Lantz & Schroeder, 1999) and that androgynous and masculine women athletes, more than feminine athletes, participate in sports (Clément-Guillotin & Fontayne, 2011).

Of particular interest in the current research is whether ethnicity and gender would account for similar levels of athletic pre-competition anxiety, self-confidence, and competitiveness or whether NHC and African American women and men would report different levels and intensities of these variables.  For African Americans in general, athletics has been an achievement domain that has been valued as an arena in which to show confidence, effort, and achievement (Anshel, Sutarso, & Jubenville, 2009). Furthermore, Binion (1990) argues that African American women are encouraged to be hard-working and self-reliant, and are more likely to be androgynous or masculine in their self-definition than NHC women.  In the current study, given the Expectancy Value Model described above and the tendency for African-American women’s self-definition to be non-stereotypically feminine, it was of particular interest to discern whether African American women athletes were more similar to NHC women athletes or men athletes in their pre-competition anxiety and attitudes.

The Present Study

The current study investigated the effects of ethnicity on perceived pre-competition cognitive and somatic anxiety, self-confidence, and competitiveness in men and women collegiate track and field athletes. First, it was hypothesized that African American athletes would report lower pre-competition cognitive and somatic anxiety scores than NHC track and field athletes. Second, (and consistent with stereotype threat and expectancy values theories) it was hypothesized that African American women’s pre-competition anxiety and attitudes would similar to men athletes than to NHC women’s anxiety and attitudes.  In summary, with respect to gender, we expected to find gender differences among NHC athletes, given the stereotyped nature of athletics, but did not expect to find gender differences among African American athletes, as posited by Expectancy Value Theory (Eccles, 1983).



Upon selecting a regular season track meet, investigators contacted participating universities to obtain permission for recruitment of their student-athletes. This project received approval from each university’s Institutional Review Board and corresponding track and field coaches prior to the dissemination of questionnaires.  One-hundred and twenty-two (26.5%) track and field athletes (57 African American, 65 NHC) from seven Division I universities participated in the study (see Table 1). Participants reported competing in the following events: 100-meter(m) race, 100m hurdles, 110m hurdles, 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, 1500m, 3000m steeple, 5000m, 10000m, long jump, high jump, triple jump, pole vault, discus, javelin, hammer, shot put, and weight throw.


Demographic information.  Participants self-reported their ethnic group, gender, age, socio-economic status, year in college, and primary athletic event.

Modified Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2. The modified Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2; Martens, Burton, Vealey, Bump, & Smith, 1990) was used to measure reported pre-competition cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and self-confidence. The CSAI-2 consists of 27 statements, each followed by two rating scales. Each statement is followed by an intensity rating scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 4 (very much so). A second directional rating scale follows each statement: “I view this feeling as _____  to my performance.” In response to this statement, participants specify a rating from -3 (very harmful) to 3 (very helpful). Examples of statements measuring cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and self-confidence include: “I am concerned about this competition,” “I feel jittery,” and “I feel at ease,” respectively. The internal consistency for cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and self-confidence intensity has been found to be (α = .81, .82, .88), respectively (Martens et. al., 1990).  In the present study, the internal consistency for intensity scores among African American participants for cognitive anxiety (α = .84) and self-confidence (α = .86) were strong, while the internal consistency for somatic anxiety (α = .60) was somewhat weaker.  Among NHC participants the internal consistencies for the cognitive anxiety (α = .85), somatic anxiety (α = .70) and self-confidence (α = .87) intensity scores were all acceptable.  The remaining internal consistencies for each direction subscale for each ethnic group were strong (ranging from α = .78 to .92).  An examination of the correlation between the intensity and direction components of each subscale indicated that intensity and direction were independent (negatively correlated) for the cognitive and somatic subscales and moderately correlated for the self-confidence subscale.  Therefore we retained each scale separately.

Sport Orientation Questionnaire. The Sport Orientation Questionnaire (SOQ; Gill & Deeter, 1988) measures competitiveness, win orientation, and goal orientation. The SOQ consists of 25 statements rated on a 5-popint Likert scale specifying the extent to which one agrees with the given statement. The following statements are examples of competitiveness, win orientation, and goal orientation, respectively: “I am a determined competitor,” “Winning is important,” and “I set goals for myself when I compete.” The internal consistency for competitiveness, win orientation, and goal orientation usually ranges from (α = .94-.95, .85-.86), and (α = .79-.82), respectively (Gill & Deeter, 1988). Internal consistencies among African American and NHC participants are (α = .95, .80, and .91), and (α = .86, .79, and .71), respectively. Since we found the subscales moderately and significantly positively correlated (r = .68) between goal and win orientation, (r = .74) between goal orientation and competitiveness, and (r = .65) between win orientation and competitiveness), we averaged the items across each subscale to form one composite competitiveness score.


The investigators attended regular season track meets and distributed the survey to participating teams. Student-athletes completed the questionnaires and returned them via pre-paid mail.  Since completing a study prior to competition could interfere with performance, participants were asked to complete the survey within 48 hours after competing. This time frame was confirmed by the dates on the consent forms as well as tracking the shipment of surveys to the study investigators.  Research has shown that athletes can accurately recall their perceived pre-competition anxiety within 48-hours after competition (Harger & Raglin, 1994).


Chi-square tests for gender and year-in-college differences by ethnicity were non-significant (χ2 (1) = .135, p = .714 and χ2 (3) = 1.215, p = .749, respectively). Conversely, a significant difference for socio-economic status by ethnicity was found (χ2 (8) = 28.041, p < .001). American athletes were significantly more represented in the lower two categories, while non-Hispanic Caucasians were significantly more represented in the upper categories (Table 1).

Primary Results

We first examined ethnic differences within gender.  A MANOVA evaluating differences on the dependent variables for men was significant (F(7,24) = 2.42, p = .05; partial eta squared ηp2 = .41).  Follow-up univariate statistics indicated that African American men were lower in cognitive anxiety direction than NHC men (F(1,32) = 6.29,p < .05; ηp2 = .17). That is, they found cognitive anxiety statements to be less beneficial pre-competitively than did NHC men (see Table 2).

Similarly, the analysis among women indicated a significant overall MANOVA (F(7,52) = 2.25, p = .05; ηp2 = .25).  Univariate analyses indicated that African American women reported lower cognitive anxiety intensity (F(1,60) = 3.97, p = .05; ηp2 = .07) and higher self-confidence (F(1,60) = 5.43, p < .05; ηp2 = .09) than NHC women (see Table 3).

To further investigate the relationship between ethnicity and gender we next conducted a series of ANOVAs exploring the interaction between ethnicity and gender on the dependent variables.  The comparison between African American men and African American women indicated African American men viewed the self-confidence items as more helpful to their performance than African American women (F(1,36) = 4.91, p < .05; ηp2 = .12).  Similarly, the comparison between African American women and NHC men indicated that NHC men viewed the self-confidence items as more helpful than African American women (F(1, 42) = 4.18, p < .05; ηp2 = .10).  Comparing African American men to NHC women indicated that African American men were more self-confident (F(1, 50) = 18.82, p < .01; ηp2 = .28) and exhibited more competitiveness (F(1,50) = 10.33, p < .01; ηp2 = .16) than NHC women. Comparing NHC men to NHC women indicated that NHC men were more self-confident (F(1,56) = 6.37, p < .05; ηp2 = .1), more competitive  (F(1,56) = 16.56, p < .01; ηp2 = .24), and a trend towards exhibiting less cognitive anxiety (F(1,56) = 3.53, p = .06; ηp2 = .06).  NHC women also found cognitive anxiety statements to be less helpful to their performance (F(1,56) = 5.56, p < .05; ηp2 = .09).


This study examined the effects of ethnicity within gender on pre-competition anxiety, competitiveness, and self-confidence in collegiate track and field athletes. There were significant differences between African American and NHC men and women, in large part accounted for by ethnicity by gender interactions.  Specifically, we found that African American and NHC men were equivalent in pre-competition anxiety, self-confidence, and competitiveness, but that African American men were significantly lower than NHC men in cognitive anxiety direction (how beneficial pre-competition anxiety was to their performance).  Both reported more self-confident, competitiveness, and trended towards less anxiety than NHC women.  Notably, African American and NHC men did not differ from African American women on these dimensions, and African American women reported significantly lower cognitive anxiety intensity and higher self-confidence scores than NHC women athletes.  The only area in which NHC women were more similar to both African American and NHC men was in how beneficial self-confidence statements were to performance.  Thus, on many dimensions measured in this study, there was more equivalence for African American women with both groups of men athletes than for NHC women with both groups of men or African American women.

The different pattern of results among African American women athletes and its similarity to African American and NHC men athletes is a unique finding that may be accounted for by cultural differences. That African American women prior to athletic competition, a traditionally masculine domain, are consistent with stereotype threat theory (Steele, 1997) and Binion’s (1990), athletics may be less of a stereotyped domain for African American vs. NHC women.  Our findings are also consistent with Eccles’ Expectancy Value Theory (1983) which asserts that the value of success in athletics is an important domain for African Americans (Chalabaev et al., 2013).

It is also possible that African American women endorse the “strong Black woman” ideology where they view themselves as strong and resilient (Harrington, Crowther, & Shipherd, 2010; Black & Peacock, 2011) or as “superwomen,” a conceptual framework that posits that African American women strive to show strength, suppress emotion, and are motivated to succeed (Giscombe, 2005; Woods-Giscombe & Lobel, 2008; Woods-Giscombe, 2010).  This mentality is believed to be rooted in the role of African American women in the family system.  As they are often head of household, they are expected to assume the more typically male stance of being strong and not showing vulnerability. This may result in higher self-confidence, and a decreased tendency to display or, perhaps, even acknowledge negative emotions.  If this depiction is accurate, then it should be no surprise that we found lower anxiety, higher competitiveness, and higher self-confidence compared to NHC women athletes. It has also been suggested that African Americans’ acknowledgment of emotions such as anxiety prevents productivity in their lives (Neal-Barnett & Smith, 1997). Similar to what one would expect for NHC men, anxiety suppression may represent an adaptive behavior of sorts for African American men and women.  It is also possible that the sample of African American women were simply more talented (or part of more talented teams) than other groups.  It should be noted that differences found here could also be attributable to differences in gender expectations, which we did not measure.  Nonetheless, the evidence from this study indicates that African American women athletes’ reports are different from NHC women athletes’ and more like men athletes’ from both ethnic groups, a finding that warrants further investigation in future studies.

Specific to the NHC sample, we found that men and women track and field athletes differed in pre-competition anxiety and competitiveness variables. Consistent with previous research (Braathen & Svebak, 1992; Gill & Deeter, 1988; Marcel & Paquet, 2010 ), NHC men reported higher scores for competitiveness and trending lower scores for cognitive anxiety intensity, but higher scores for cognitive anxiety direction and self-confidence intensity.  Notably, there were no differences in pre-competition anxiety, competitiveness, and self-confidence between African American men and African American women athletes. The only dimension on which NHC women were more similar than African American women to both groups of men was on how beneficial self-confidence statements were to performance. African American women’s comparatively lower ratings of the benefit of self-confidence statements could also be due to the cultural value of performing and doing rather than dwelling on and attending to emotion (Neal-Barnett & Smith, 1997).

Future studies could employ a larger sample and treat ethnicity as a continuous variable.  Researchers could also assess anxiety prospectively and use it to predict actual performance.  Some attention should also be paid to measuring the Strong Black Woman symbol.  Finally, it would be interesting to investigate other sports as well as other sport types (e.g., individual versus team, judged versus non-judged) to further explore the differences noted in this study.  Nonetheless, the present study represents the first step in examining the impact of ethnicity on psychological constructs related to athletic performance and encourages further exploration.  Findings support the notion that athletes (particularly women) from diverse ethnic groups may experience or report different levels of pre-competition anxiety, self-confidence, and competitiveness as it relates to their track and field performance.


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Table 1

Demographic characteristics of the sample

African American Caucasian
M (n = 57) SD M (n = 65) SD
Age 19.94 1.51 19.69 1.18
Gender n % n %
        Men 22 38.6 23 35.4
        Women 35 61.4 42 64.6
College Year n % n %
        Freshman 16 28.1 21 32.3
        Sophomore 11 19.3 15 23.1
        Junior 14 24.6 16 24.6
        Senior 16 28.1 13 20.0
Family Income (SES)** n    % n    %
        Below $25,000 8 14.0  –
        $25,001-$50,000 8 14.0  –
        $50,001-$75,000 5 8.8 5 7.7
        $75,001-$100,000 9 15.8 7 10.8
        $100,001-$125,000 6 10.5 12 18.5
        $125,001-$150,000 2 3.5 6 9.2
        $150,001-$175,000   – 4 6.2
        $175,001-$200,000 3 5.3 4 6.2
        Above $200,000 3 5.3 10 15.4
        Did not report 13 22.8 17 26.2

**Significant difference by ethnicity (p < .001)


Table 2

Ethnic differences for Men

African American Caucasian
   Mean     SD Mean SD
Cognitive Anx. Intensity  20.19 5.98 21.13 5.65
Cognitive Anx. Direction  -3.00a 11.35 2.27b 10.09
Somatic Anx. Intensity  17.28 3.40 18.34 3.98
Somatic Anx. Direction  -.46 7.95 2.00 8.51
Self-Conf. Intensity  27.14 4.50 24.68 5.35
Self-Conf. Direction  12.77 8.00 12.27 7.64
Competitiveness  36.59 6.92 38.38 2.60


Table 3

Ethnic differences for Women

African American Caucasian
   Mean     SD Mean SD
Cognitive Anx. Intensity  21.29 a 6.05 24.28 b 5.12
Cognitive Anx. Direction  -.37 10.67 -3.61 7.88
Somatic Anx. Intensity  18.09 5.39 20.41 5.05
Somatic Anx. Direction   1.24 8.65     .00 7.80
Self-Conf. Intensity  24.60a 5.85 20.51 b 4.89
Self-Conf. Direction   7.19 12.61  7.25 11.72
Competitiveness  36.62 4.24 35.63 3.81


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