Psychological Crisis in a Marathon and the Buffering Effects of Self‐Verbalizations

Julia Schüler and Thomas A. Langens

Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 37 (2007), 10. – S. 2319-2344

In their study of goal striving, researchers found that self-verbalizations help people to achieve their goals by reducing the effect of psychological crises that cause people to turn away from them. They reached this conclusion by examining marathon runners, a group who face psychological and physiological barriers in their pursuit of successfully completing the race. Self-verbalizations are a strategy for dealing with psychological crises encountered, such as distractions or goal disengagement, which are a predictor of poor race performance.

Researchers conducted an experimental field study comparing the psychological experiences runners had at four separate points during the race (10, 20, 30, and 40 kilometers). Roughly half of the runners were given self-verbalization instructions while the rest did not.

For both groups, the mean values for psychological crisis increased until kilometer 30, before declining. The self-verbalization group, however, reported lower values at each measurement point, with the amount of self-verbalization they expressed following same pattern as the amount of psychological crisis they felt. The runners using self-verbalization also appeared to have better race performance, though the difference between the groups was only significant for runners experiencing large psychological crises.

Overall, the data indicate that the experimental group used self-verbalizations, when needed, to moderate the effect of their psychological crises. However, the study also found that while self-verbalizations were effective for marathon runners, they “did not use them spontaneously” (p.2340), but instead they needed some form of instruction to do so.