3. Psychophysiology is a field that has been recently gaining interest as more research is being done and technology continues to advance to assist in analyzing responses. It is a field that seeks to relate anatomy and psychology, linking social, behavioral, and psychological phenomena with physiological responses to physical and social environments and events. By being aware of both the physiological responses to an athlete’s training and stress and the subsequent psychological response, those working with the athletes can become more aware of what responses occur in specific situations in order to try and create the best working environment for success. The goal of psychophysiology is to enhance and better quantify psychological theory and concepts using biological data and to see the general relations between the psychological domain and the physiological domain in order to try and find where elements of each can be related on a 1-to-1 basis, though most elements are inter-related between the two.
When looking at an athlete’s training program, there are traditionally three phases of training identified by the training volume, load, tasks, and maintenance involved in each. These phases of training include the preparation, competition, and transition phase, all of which involve aspects of physical, technical, tactical, and psychological training to create the optimum environment for athlete success and performance. The goal of psychological training is to teach coping mechanisms for training and competitive stress and can include techniques such as goal setting, self-talk, thought management, and biofeedback training. In sport and exercise training, examples of psychophysiology research and training include techniques of biofeedback, measuring electrophysiological responses to stress, using electroencephalography (EEG) as an index of cognitive processing, a rating of perceived exertion, and the relationship between physical activity and cognitive function, among others.
Biofeedback training is among the most common methods of psychophysiological methods. Advances in technology have allowed biofeedback analysis and training to move from a laboratory setting into the field for analysis and response. Training with this technique teaches athletes to gain control and self-regulate themselves based on feedback from the mind and body working together, making athletes more aware of the responses their body makes to certain stressors and how to monitor and adjust for them. Most research of biofeedback uses it as a component of psychological skill training, such as one program developed for the Canadian National Short Track Speed Skating team that used this training to produce optimum training plans for each athlete in order to prepare them for their best performance under pressure (Beauchamp et al., 2012), and has been seen to be effective in multiple other sports as well. Incorporating biofeedback training into a traditional training regiment can have psychological benefits on an athlete’s performance and give the athlete objective feedback on their mental achievements alongside the objective feedback they normally receive on physical achievements during practice.
Another psychophysiological analysis method that has been studied and implemented is the use of EEG to look at cognitive processing in response to exercise. A study by Hall, Ekkekakis, and Petruzzello (2007) was based on the realization that there was variability in the effective responses to similar situations when presented to different individuals. They suggest and tested that this variability could be a result of asymmetry of regional brain activity and frontal EEG asymmetry could be a predictive factor of the differing responses to exercise. Though this study contradicted their original idea of what brain activity was occurring during exercise stress, it was able to show the recovery effect on the brain and its link to the physical response after strenuous exercise. By using EEG in the analysis of cognitive processing during sport training, researchers can help athletes learn more about what is occurring in their brain to elicit certain stress responses and allow for better adaption to what would be most beneficial to training.
Though many of the factors of psychophysiology are a little more difficult to test and incorporate into traditional sport and exercise settings without proper tools and technology, some techniques can be used. In working with the general population, particularly those who live somewhat sedentary lifestyles, some techniques of exercise psychophysiology can be employed. The use of a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale is commonly used in unfit clinical populations. By allowing individuals to rate how hard they feel they are working at activities compared to what activity they are performing and how much energy that activity traditionally takes, it becomes possible to link the mental side of exercise with the physical side and set individuals up to increase their exercise ability but still work within their comfort and ability levels. Equating fitness to stress can help particularly in a sedentary office setting as it is seen that decreasing sedentary time and adding in physical activity can be beneficial in reducing stress levels and implementing this method of psychophysiological analysis can allow people to become more aware of these effects. Not only would these methods be beneficial in working with a population of sedentary individuals, particularly those in sedentary occupations, but they are also good reminders to me to become aware of my stress levels and get up and move but still work within my means and comfort levels while exercising to avoid negative stress on my body. Knowing when to push through and when to pull back is an important part of physical activity that requires knowing when physical and mental aspects link and when one overrides another.