Performance during Stress: Affective Personality, Age, and Regularity of Physical Exercise

By Norlander, Torsten; Bood, Sven-Ake et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Performance during Stress: Affective Personality, Age, and Regularity of Physical Exercise


Norlander, Torsten, Bood, Sven-Ake, Archer, Trevor, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


In order to study the role of stress upon performance as a function of age and personality type, participants were derived from three different occupational categories. Performance ability during stress and health condition of participants were studied through application of the Stroop Color and Word Test, the Stress and Energy Instrument, the Glare Pressure Test and systolic blood pressure measurements - whereas the four different personality types were derived through application of the Positive Affect (PA) and Negative Affect (NA) scales. It was found that self-actualization individuals (i.e. those demonstrating high positive affect and low negative affect) showed the best performance under the influence of stress whereas the high affective (i.e. high positive affect and high negative affect) showed the lowest levels of systolic blood pressure during resting. No differences in performance during stress were found between the younger and older participants encompassed by high positive affect, whereas an age difference was shown for high negative affect individuals. Regularity of exercise was associated with high positive affect and contributed to the ability of older participants to attain levels of performance comparable with those of younger participants.

Keywords: stress, performance, positive affect, negative affect, exercise-habit, affective personality.

Within stress research, self-report data are used generally to study the stress phenomenon (Watson, Pennebaker & Folger, 1987). Several studies have shown that self-reported data are strongly associated with different individuals' affective state (e.g., Watson, Pennebaker & Folger). Some individuals are more prone than others to feel threatened by life's difficulties. For example, anxious, neurotic people report more stress than do others (Watson, David & Suls, 1999), as do people who are relatively unhappy (Seidlitz & Diener, 1993). Thus, individuals' perceptions and appraisals of stress are highly subjective. Studies have indicated an underlying affective factor, Negative Affect (NA) correlated strongly with reported stress symptoms (Watson & Clark, 1984). Involvement of NA and Positive Affect (PA) has an influence upon how stress is expressed and reported (Melvin & Molly, 2000).

Negative tendencies have been shown to be maintained as relatively stable characteristics expressing feelings like anger, contempt, shame, fear and depression (Watson & Pennebaker, 1989). Costa and McCrae (1980) have found that NA, defined as the tendency to experience regularly several negative feelings over time in different situations (Spector & O'Connell, 1994), may last for 10 years or more. Thus, for example, high NA correlates with stresses and strains in a variety of situations and with events over which one experiences lack of control (Spector & O'Connell; Watson, Pennebaker, & Folger, 1987).

In contrast to NA, PA reflects enthusiasm, activity, control and commitment. PA incorporates an individual's disposition to maintain a positive (happy) outlook over both time and in various situations (Watson, Pennebaker, & Folger, 1987). Individuals possessing a high degree of PA more often feel greater life satisfaction, are more secure, usually have better self-confidence (Varg, 1997), and have a higher level of activity (Costa & McCrae, 1980; Watson & Clark, 1984). They have more social relationships, experience greater satisfaction with their friends and have a greater social influence in different organizations (Watson & Clark). These authors (i.e., Watson & Clark) imply that PA also has a positive relationship with different biological and social rhythms, such as weather, circadian rhythm, week-days and season. Adjectives like passionate, enthusiastic, glad, active, energetic, alert and determined describe the character of positive affect (Watson & Clark, 1984; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988).

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