Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Modelling the process of falling behind and its psychophysiological consequences
  1. Andreas Venhorst1,
  2. Dominic Micklewright2,
  3. Timothy D Noakes1
  1. 1 Department of Human Biology, Division of Exercise Science & Sports Medicine, University of Cape Town, Newlands, South Africa
  2. 2 School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Andreas Venhorst, Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town, Division of Exercise Science & Sports Medicine, Newlands 7725, South Africa; andreas.venhorst{at}


Introduction A preceding article investigated the psychophysiological responses to falling behind a performance matched opponent. The following temporally linked cause–effect relationships were hypothesised: falling behind precedes deterioration in valence, deterioration in valence precedes development of an action crisis, experience of an action crisis precedes psychoneuroendocrinological distress response and non-adaptive distress response reduces conduciveness to high performance, thereby preceding performance decrement.

Methods In this article, we applied structural equation modelling to test the extent to which the observed data fit the hypothesised cause–effect relationships. A five-step procedure was applied to model the interrelationships between the major study variables in the hypothesised temporal order.

Results Significant linear relationships were found between all hypothesised predictor and outcome variable pairs (p<0.024). The dynamic change in valence was a significant mediator (p=0.011) as it explained 35% of the relationship between falling behind and action crisis. All hypothesised cause–effect relationships continued to be significant after controlling for performance, descriptor, training and perceived strain variables. The observed data fitted the hypothesised structural model well with excellent model fit indices throughout.

Conclusion We applied, tested and confirmed the hypothesised debilitative psychophysiological processes that unfold in response to falling behind a performance matched opponent. The main findings were: deterioration in valence mediated the relationship between falling behind and action crisis, the mindset shift associated with an action crisis predicted increased blood cortisol concentrations and non-adaptive blood cortisol concentrations predicted performance decrement. The findings point towards the crucial role of affective and cognitive modifiers in centrally regulated and goal-directed exercise behaviour.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors AV prepared the first draft of the manuscript and contributed to revision and final approval. DM and TN contributed to revision and final approval of the manuscript.

  • Funding No funding was required for this manuscript. Dr Andreas Venhorst has been supported by a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

  • Competing interests AV and DM have no competing interests. TDN is the author of the books Lore of Running and Waterlogged and co-author of The Real Meal Revolution, Raising Superheroes and Challenging Beliefs. All royalties from the sales of The Real Meal Revolution and Raising Superheroes and related activities are donated to the Noakes Foundation, of which he is the chairman and which funds research on insulin resistance, diabetes and nutrition as directed by its Board of Directors. Money from the sale of other books is donated to the Tim and Marilyn Noakes Sports Science Research Trust, which funds the salary of a senior researcher at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The research focuses on the study of skeletal muscle in African mammals with some overlap to the study of type 2 diabetes in carnivorous mammals and of the effects of (scavenged) sugar consumption on free-living (wild) baboons.

  • Patient consent All participants signed appropriate informed consent prior to participation as approved by HREC.

  • Ethics approval Human Research Ethics Committee of University of Cape Town.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Author note The authors would like to thank Professor Caroline Finch for her insightful comment on the first draft of this manuscript.