How do we measure Mental Toughness?


Measurement of Mental Toughness

Crust and Clough (2005) identified mental toughness as a trait-like dimension of personality, extending the conceptualisation of hardiness (Kobasa et al., 1982) by adding confidence to the three existing concepts of, control, commitment and challenge. Horsburgh et al.’s (2009) research later confirmed that individual differences in mental toughness were indeed largely attributable to genetic and non-shared environmental factors.

The four components of the mental toughness model defined by Crust and Clough (2005) are control, commitment, challenge and confidence (4Cs). Their research identified a mentally tough athlete as someone who (a) views negative experiences, or situations as challenges to be overcome, (b) believes they are influential in controlling their future life experiences, (c) remains committed to achieving their goals, and (d) is confident in their abilities to overcome negative life experiences.

Mentally tough individuals are likely to be resilient to stress, thrive in competition, have reduced anxiety and be high in self-confidence. Based on completion of the Mental Toughness 48 Questionnaire (MTQ48) (Crust & Clough, 2005), the authors  reported a strong association between mental toughness and physical endurance during a task to hold a dumbbell suspended with a straight arm in front of the body, and speculated that mentally tough participants benefit from a buffering effect that impacts either the attention to, or the perception of, pain.

Although, Crust and Clough (2005) invited further investigation of mental toughness in physically demanding situations to better understand physiological correlates some major limitations were apparent in the study. The participants were all students of a similar mean age of 21 years (SD=2.7) and weight 79.6 kg (SD=5.0), and the nature of the task was inherently boring, with no consideration given to previous weight training experience or existing participation in sports that may physically prepare the participant for performing the task. Context may also have an effect, the pressure of producing good results in a tough training session, or more importantly in competition, are more challenging than in a quiet room in a research laboratory. The dumbbell holding task is therefore not ecologically valid or representative of the available endurance activities, including ultra-marathons, and raises doubt on the assumption that mental toughness acts as a buffer during demanding conditions.

The Challenges

The divergent validity of the MTQ48 has also been challenged, due to concerns regarding the underlying conceptualisation, failing to report underlying factor analysis, and a lack of independent scrutiny of the underlying factor structure (Sheard, Golby & Wersch, 2009). And finally, the development, and adoption of the MTQ48 appears to lack scientific rigour, with no information supplied regarding an explanation of data collection, and a lack of clear rationale for including the additional concept of confidence on to the pre-existing three concepts of hardiness as proposed originally by Kobasa et al. (1982, 1985). Recent research by Vaughan et al. (2018) has offered support for the scales validity but raises concerns regarding applicability of the MTQ48 to athletes at different competitive levels. Indeed, a study by Gucciardi, Hanton, and Mallett (2012) stated that the four-factor model did not fit the data from their sample of athletes. In response to criticism of the MTQ48, the Sports Mental Toughness Questionnaire (SMTQ) was created to assess confidence, control and constancy, or an unrelenting determination, using 14 items and a 5-point Likert scale (Sheard et al., 2009). However, challenges have also been aimed at the SMTQ, regarding its ability to capture the breadth of mental toughness captured in the earlier qualitative studies, along with distinguishing the key aspects of mental toughness (Gucciardi, Mallett, Hanrahan, & Gordon, 2013). 

Next read

Crust, L., & Clough, P. J. (2005). Relationship between Mental Toughness and Physical Endurance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 100(1), 192-194. 

Gucciardi, D. F., Hanton, S., & Mallett, C. J. (2012). Progressing measurement in mental toughness: A case example of the Mental Toughness Questionnaire 48. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology,1(3), 194-214. 

Gucciardi, M., Hanrahan and Gordon  (2013) ‘Measuring Mental Toughness in Sport’ in Daniel F Gucciardi and Sandy Gordon (Eds.),Mental Toughness in Sport – Developments in Theory and Sport (pp135-162), Abingdon: Routledge.

Horsburgh, V.A., Schermer, J.A., Veselka, L., Vernon, P.A.  (2009). A behavioural genetic study of mental toughness and personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 100-105. 

Kobasa, S. C., Maddi, S. R., Kahn, S. (1982). Hardiness and Health : a prospective study, Journal of personality and social psychology, 42, 168-77.

Vaughan, R., Hanna, D., & Breslin, G. (2018). Psychometric properties of the Mental Toughness Questionnaire 48 (MTQ48) in elite, amateur and nonathletes. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology,7(2), 128-140. 


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