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Psychobiological Interventions To Improve Endurance Performance Psychology Essay

Psychobiology (also known as behavioural neuroscience) is the study of the biology of behaviour. In this subject, behaviour is explained as a result of complex chemical reactions and biological events within the brain. Psychobiology studies the role of biological factors in sensation, perception, learning, memory and language. A study by Hamilton-West (2011) explores that the biological focus of psychobiology is on the central nervous system (CNS), immune system, endocrine systems, impacts on emotional states on physical and psychological functioning, gene-environment and gene-behaviour interactions; the brain and neurotransmitters influence our behaviours, thoughts, feelings and cognitions. The method of assessing the activity in our brain caused by our senses and perceptions is by using an electroencephalography (EEG). This method records oscillating electrical action potentials which reflects the activity in the cortex. In this study I aim to look at what methods covering all of the senses mentioned can be used to physiologically improve endurance performance.

Literature Review

Studies of biology and psychology as separate fields have been around for centuries, but the term psychobiology has been used in 20th century. Avicenna (980-1037) the Persian physician and philosopher was known for looking at the relationship between certain illnesses, psychology and biology. This runs alongside point of view held by Plato and Aristotle, and later, by René Descartes.

In his work, Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes put forth his belief that the mind, which he thought to be the seat of emotions, was a separate phenomenon from the biological brain, which had more to do with intelligence. He felt emotional phenomena, then, was not dependent on the physical substance of brain matter (Cochran,

During the 19th century, psychologist William James, in his seminal textbook The Principles of Psychology (1890), advanced the idea that psychology should be studied in conjunction with biology. James’s point of view attracted much attention since, in addition to being a psychologist, he had received training in physiology. Another psychologist, Knight Dunlap, advanced the concept of biological psychology by writing the book An Outline of Psychobiology (1914). He also founded and published the journal, Psychobiology. Through the years, scientists have continued to look for ways to explain behaviour with physical causes (Cochran).

There are many factors that influence human performance in competitive settings, such as attention, cognition, biofeedback and mental -imagery.

Walker (2007) suggests that you can divert your attention from pain to more positive thoughts during a marathon. You should plan on being aware of discomfort during the marathon by gaging your level of physical discomfort when you are training at your race pace. Then tell yourself, “This is my body’s way of telling me that I am running at my race pace.” Once you have acknowledged these feelings as feedback, you can disconnect from them and shift your focus to other things such as your positive self-talk, power words, or race focus plan. By reframing these physical sensations as a signal from your body that you are in your groove, you change the emotional response to the feelings. Dr. David Yukelson, a sport psychologist at Pennsylvania State University and consultant to the USA Track and Field Association emphasizes the need to move past the pain. “If all you do is hope the pain or fatigue you experience when you’re running will just go away, it probably won’t,” says Yukelson. “But if you have a strategy ready to replace the pain, you can often mask it enough so you don’t end up dwelling on it”.

A practical and commonly used method would be is running to music, conclusive research has shown that music has a psychophysical affect which diverts and narrows attention (Karageorghis, 1999). Music of the right genre, beat-time and volume can settle the nerves of over-anxious athletes (Karageorghis, Drew, & Terry, 1996), in return increase arousal and motivation.

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Another psychobiological intervention is electrical stimulation or neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES). There has been a large amount of research done into the neuromuscular connection, end motor plate and how to optimize the communication for optimal athletic performance. Machines have been designed for various different functions all with the goal of improving athletic performance. In relation to endurance sports, a low frequency impulse can be used to improve recovery. The theory behind it is that low level stimulation and contraction of a muscle helps to improve blood flow, thereby removing metabolic waste products and supplying nutrients necessary to facilitate and speed the repair process. In addition low frequency NMES treatment can help to prevent adhesions and stiffness in the muscle that may occur after a workout (McDonald, 2011).

Cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses, a result of this is a perception, sensation or intuition. Expert performance in sport is dependent on perceptual and cognitive skills as well as on physical and motor capabilities; consequently, the area of perceptual skill has attracted significant interest in recent years (e.g. Williams et al., 1999). This is a natural reflection of athletic performance as the intersection between the physical – the potential and limitations of the human body – and the psychological – the skills, knowledge, drive and even the social context of the athlete (Plessner and Haar, 2006). In relation to the project cognition will come into play for those who understand the nature of endurance sports.

As mentioned earlier Electroencephalography (EEG) is a prime method of understanding and monitoring the brain wave activity. Research has been done for approximately 40 years on the use of biofeedback to modify EEG patterns, Initial research focused on relieving anxiety (Hammond, 2005a; Moore, 2000). Multiple electrodes are placed on the scalp, then it measures voltage fluctuations resulted from ionic current flows from within the neurones of the brain.

The EEG equipment provides real-time, instantaneous audio and visual feedback to the subject about his or her brainwave activity. No electrical current is put into the brain. The brain’s electrical activity is simply relayed to the computer. Ordinarily we cannot reliably influence our brainwave patterns because we lack awareness of them. However, when we can see a representation of our brainwave activity on a computer screen a few thousandths of a second after they occur, it gives us the ability to influence and change them through a process of operant conditioning (Hammond, 2007). There are several areas in which biofeedback holds importance in sports, including enhancement of concentration and attention, reduction of anxiety, improving control over emotions (e.g., anger), for overcoming effects from mild head injuries and concussions, and for improving physical balance (Hammond, 2007).

Imagery can be used to improve endurance sports, this can me mental or physical imagery. It is a well-established principal in mind/ body communication, it can help channel your focus/attention on a mental image of success or previous successes. Walker (2007) states that during your training, use this principal to let your mind help your body stay relaxed, keep a steady pace, build up speed, or maintain good form by creating a picture in your mind. For example, when running downhill, picture yourself as a sled sliding effortlessly down a snowy slope, or when you are mentally fatigued, you can picture your lower body as being a horse that your upper body is riding upon. Look around and take in the sights as you enjoy your ride. Perhaps you may want to emulate Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter’s strategy of imagining his legs as bike wheels to create a smooth flowing pace. Experiment with different imagery strategies during your workouts and put them in the back of your mind to pull out at just the right time during the Marathon.

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Positive self-talk and power words are another simple technique to psyche up athletes during exercise. A study by Walker (2007) on marathon runners shows that during your training runs, experiment with different words or phrases to keep you in a positive mind frame, especially when you are encountering fatigue. Try statements such as: All the way; Yes, I can; or smooth and relaxed; or power words like: tough or strong. Gradually you will find phrases that feel right for different aspects of your run. In addition to being helpful during training, these phrases and power words will prove to be valuable resources when you construct your “Race Focus Plan”.

Research Question

This project will look at how influential the human psyche is and can the temperament of a group of moderately trained students be pyschobiologically intervened by using different sensory techniques.


Ten male and ten female students will be recruited to the study once ethical approval has been obtained through questionnaires and consent forms. Participants will be aged 18-36 years and will be active and healthy but not specifically trained for any particular sport, non-cyclist will be deliberately chosen. Participants will be excluded if they have a history of hip, knee or ankle injury, participants with heart conditions or respiratory problems will not be able to take part either. The participants must be non-cyclists as the test will be done until exhaustion, therefore regular cyclists will have a natural advantage over the others. I did not want this as it would be unfair to non-cyclists and take up too much time.

The testing will be laboratory based on cycle ergometers and will roughly be a 6 day process as the participants will be divided into groups of 5 for manageability and to avoid congestion. Each participant will cycle three times, 1st session will be a control. The control will be a simple session of cycling at 75 Watts until exhaustion, no interventions in place. The 2nd session will be at 75Watts also but the intervention in place will be music (46 minute house mix for cyclists), also until exhaustion. The 3rd and final session will be the intervention session, 75 watts, until exhaustion, participants will cycle with music, visual cues, verbal encouragement. I plan on playing the same mix, sticking motivational posters up all across the room or playing the video of Bradley Wiggins in Tour de France and occasionally giving positive encouraging words.

The reason why I have not included an Electroencephalography or neuromuscular electrical stimulation because they are too expensive and impractical to the study. But if I did have the equipment then with the participants’ consent I would prefer to use these as it would give me an idea of the brain activity for the 3 cycle sessions.

I will make sure that every participant has a day rest before the next session, this is to ensure full muscular recovery. Muscular fatigue or DOMs will affect the participant and possibly compromise their results.

I have chosen 75Watts as the power settings for the ergometer because this is an average aerobic level of cycling without dipping into your anaerobic glycolytic stores.

For each session I will give sufficient time for the participants to warm-up, then get in the zone , I understand that some may be able to endure more cycling than others so I will allocate plenty of time for this. The timing will commence from once they reach 75watts, then stopped once they signal that they have finished.

I must stress that I am not measuring aerobic capacity or VO2 MAX, but this test is a measurement of aerobic and muscular endurance over time.

Ethical considerations

The study contains prolonged exercise with resistance on a cycle ergometer. There could be a high risk of dehydration, participants must make sure they are fully hydrated before, during and after the exercise, dehydration can result to loss in brain function, unconsciousness or death. There is a risk of nausea if the participants haven’t eaten sufficient carbohydrates before the cycle session and an earlier onset of fatigue due to muscle glycogen stores being used. There is also a risk of aggravating a past injury from prolonged repetitive exercise such as cycling. These should be low risks as I have chosen students who are fairly active and should have a basic understanding of exercise science. By performing a warm-up most injury risks are reduced. As mentioned earlier the participants will experience fatigue and DOMs up to 24 after their exercise therefore I have given them a day rest inbetween to recover fully. Electrically braked cycles vary the resistance to the pedalling speed (rate-independent ergometers), thereby permitting better power output control, because it is common for subjects who are fatigued or unable to cooperate to decrease their pedalling speed.

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