Psychophysiological responses to sport-specific affective pictures: A study of morality and emotion in athletes

Nicholas Stanger, Maria Kavussanu, Adrian Willoughby, Christopher Ring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: The link between morality and emotion has received little attention in the sport context. To address this issue, we examined whether moral disengagement, empathy, antisocial behaviour and psychopathy were associated with emotional reactions to unpleasant pictures depicting players being hurt or deliberately fouled in a sport context. Design: A cross-sectional design was employed. Method: Team sport athletes (N = 66) completed measures of moral disengagement, empathy, antisocial behaviour and psychopathy and then viewed unpleasant, neutral, and pleasant sport pictures while emotional reactions to the pictures were assessed using valence and arousal ratings of the pictures as well as electrocutaneous startle blink, heart rate, skin conductance, and evoked potentials. Results: Moral disengagement, empathy and psychopathy, but not antisocial behaviour, were associated with emotional reactions to the unpleasant pictures. Specifically, moral disengagement was related to attenuated startle blink responses and higher valence (less unpleasant) ratings, whereas empathy was associated with lower valence (more unpleasant) ratings. Psychopathy was associated with smaller startle blink responses and less heart rate deceleration. Conclusion: Our findings provide support for the link between morality and emotion in athletes. Moral variables may be more closely linked with specific measures of emotion, highlighting the utility of taking a multi-measure approach in the assessment of emotion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)840-848
Number of pages9
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Empathy
  • Moral disengagement
  • Psychopathy

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