Lay perceptions of mental toughness: Understanding conceptual similarities and differences between lay and sporting contexts

Sarah Sorensen, Aaron Jarden, Grant Schofield


Abstract:  The predominant focus on sporting populations has limited our conceptual understanding of mental toughness in lay contexts. On the basis of its wider benefits beyond sports, we sought to understand the central and peripheral attributes of mental toughness from a layperson’s perspective. To this end, we employed a prototype analysis which consisted of two studies. In Study 1, a list of attributes of mental toughness was generated. In Study 2, these attributes were ranked for their centrality to mental toughness. Study 1 was an open-format questionnaire, where 138 laypeople generated a final list of 75 attributes of mental toughness. The most frequently mentioned attributes were self-belief, determination, perseverance, resilience and focus, which largely supported important attributes identified by athletes in existing mental toughness literature. Study 2 surveyed 136 laypeople, who identified mental strength, overcomes obstacles, achieves/operates under pressure, determination and resilience/recovery as the most central attributes to mental toughness. Although determination and resilience aligned with existing sporting accounts of mental toughness, the remaining attributes reflect differences in perception of mental toughness between sporting and lay contexts. Examination of peripherally-rated attributes provides insights into mental toughness as an enduring form of suffering. Overall, determination and resilience emerged as frequently mentioned, as well as highly central, and, as such, represent the foundation for a universal (i.e., not context-specific) understanding of mental toughness.


mental toughness; prototype analysis; layperson; concept; definition

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