Emma started her BU journey as an undergraduate student on the BSc (Hons) Sports Psychology course and is now absorbed in research for a PhD. Her doctoral study: Performance under pressure: Combining individual differences and psychophysiological reactions is a logical progression from her degree.
“My research looks into performing under pressure in sport from an individualised perspective,” Emma explains. “There are many individual differences that have been suggested to influence performance under pressure, such as personality, stress appraisal and physiological reactions. However, more recent research has started to combine these factors in order to compare and contrast their influences on performance.
“My research intends to discover which of the individual differences have the most influence on pressurised performance, whether that is a personality trait, if they view pressure as a challenge, or reactivity of their heart under stress,” she tells us.
Emma goes on to explain that she is working with a Premiership football club academy to conduct her research. They simulate pressure among participants in the study by telling them that the academy will be told about their performance, and that the worst five performers will be interviewed. Further pressure is created by adding time penalties and punishment for inaccurate execution. Emma also plans to conduct similar tasks at the university laboratory, where she can examine cognitive and psycho-motor tasks.
She’s excited about the impact her research is already having. “It’s helping to shape an individualised approach to the performance world,” she says. “It’s about taking each individual and understanding their strengths and weaknesses in the performance environment, and then looking at how we can nurture the aspects they need to perform.”
“For example, the Premiership football club academy I’ve been working with will receive individualised player profiles, which they can use to help get the best out of their athletes.”
Emma is very enthusiastic about the support she’s received from the staff in her faculty, as well as the Graduate School. “My supervisors have provided immense support with my research and always take the time to give me constructive feedback and encourage my enthusiasm,” she comments. “Going straight to a PhD from an undergraduate degree can be difficult, but due to the placement system here at BU I was a research assistant, which made the transition easier,” she adds.
The Graduate School has provided Emma with the chance to attend a number of workshops, as well as the Postgraduate Research Conference, which she says is a great way of preparing for attending conferences as a researcher.
“They [the Graduate School] assisted me in gaining a Santander mobility scholarship, which funded a month of research training at the German Sport University in Cologne,” Emma explains, adding: “It allowed me to have expert training in pressure research and specifically gain skills in the measurement of heart rate variability, a neurocardiac indicator of stress and pressure.”
In terms of her plans for the future, Emma is hoping to lecture at BU within the Sports Science department. “I would really like to stay and give back some of what BU has given me,” she enthuses. However, she’s also keen to work in her specialism and is currently training as a sport psychologist while completing her doctorate.