Multidimensional Anxiety Theory (A comprehensive guide)

In this brief guide, we will discuss the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory, a test of multidimensional anxiety theory in male wheelchair basketball players, Reversal theory and cognitive theory.

Multidimensional Anxiety Theory

Multidimensional Anxiety Theory is a theory of anxiety specific to the field of sports psychology, and it seeks to explain performance during sports in accordance with the experience of anxiety.

Knowing how the person experiences anxiety in a sports situation is necessary to know which aspects of their behavior or thinking may be changed to make their performance better and enable them to feel good about the sports.

Multidimensional anxiety theory is based on the idea that the experience of anxiety in sports is multidimensional in nature, and it consists of two main components: a cognitive anxiety component and a somatic anxiety component. 

These two components have distinct symptoms and they affect the performance of an individual in different ways, and the way they are treated or approached may also be different.

The main hypotheses of the Multidimensional theory may be the following:

There is a negative linear relationship between cognitive state anxiety and athletic performance.

There is an inverted-U relationship between somatic anxiety and performance. 

These two statements are the main point of the Multidimensional anxiety theory, so let us explore them one by one.

According to multidimensional theory, when the person experiences cognitive state anxiety, they will experience that their athletic performance begins to deteriorate as anxiety increases, and there is no variation in this relationship in most cases either.

The other part of the hypothesis states that when somatic anxiety increases, the performance will increase till a certain point, or threshold, but after that it will start decreasing, which proves the age-old belief that some amount of anxiety in a competitive situation is good, and may actually help performance.

According to the Multidimensional anxiety theory, somatic state anxiety forms an inverted U-shape, which is similar to the Inverted U Theory of anxiety in sports.

While the multidimensional anxiety theory has been praised by many researchers for being a comprehensive theory that includes both of the main classes of anxiety to help define the level of performance by the sports persons, it also has some intense criticism.

The main problem seems to be that the inverted-U hypothesis fails to take into account that the theory and research that support the distinction between cognitive and somatic anxiety.

Additionally, it has also been found that the methodology usually used for the purpose of validating the inverted-U hypothesis, the researcher needs to have distinct low, medium, and high anxiety conditions. 

This poses a potential problem, obviously, which was seen in early studies that were aimed at testing the inverted-U hypothesis, and which eventually failed to meet this criterion.

Yet another methodological problem seen in the process of testing any of the theories that seek to examine the relationship between anxiety-performance is the operational definition of performance, and it is something that tends to vary across different arenas, different researchers, and even different contexts.

The problem with defining the operational definition of performance is seen in the simple example that while for some athletes, scoring 20 points in a basketball game might be considered successful while for another athlete, based on past results, this might be considered a failure. 

Krane argues that “performance should be based solely on an athlete’s own achievements and not be influenced by extraneous factors”

A Test of Multidimensional Anxiety Theory in Male Wheelchair Basketball Players

A test of Multidimensional Anxiety theory in male wheelchair basketball players was done by Stephane Perreault Dan and Q. Marisi, and they sought to figure out if the predictions of multidimensional anxiety theory were accurate in a group of male wheelchair basketball players.

They also sought to use the specific recommendations proposed by various authors previous to their study so they could test the inverted-U hypothesis of somatic components in the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory.

They also ensured that one of the main criticisms of the multidimensional anxiety theory and its evaluation was covered in this study, which was to check the three distinct levels of low, moderate, and high cognitive and somatic state anxiety and state self-confidence were created for each subject as well.

Another way in which they sought to fix the other criticisms of the previous research done on the multidimensional anxiety theory was by doing intraindividual analyses

Lastly, they also tried to include some objective performance measures that they obtained from real competitive situations and they also tried to fulfill the stipulation that season-long standardized performance measures should be used  and it was ultimately partially fulfilled.

Here are the results of the study that was a test of multidimensional anxiety theory in male wheelchair basketball players:

“From a theoretical point of view, MAT suggests that cognitive state anxiety, somatic state anxiety and state self-confidence are independent factors and predicts that each of these components affects performance differently. 

This theory does not take into account the interaction between cognitive and somatic anxiety and its effect on performance. A model proposed by Fazey and Hardy (1988), based on catastrophe theory (Thorn, 1975), suggests that the combined effects of cognitive state anxiety and somatic state anxiety better explain the relationship between anxiety and performance. 

Catastrophe theory has recently been tested by Krane (1990) and Hardy and Parfitt (1991), and the results of these studies appear to support the theoretical predictions of this particular theory.”

The authors of this study have also highlighted where the future research might go, saying:

“Future studies should attempt to verify if the combination of cognitive anxiety and somatic anxiety provide a better explanation of the anxiety-performance relationship for both able-bodied and wheelchair basketball players. 

According to Gould and Krane (1992), catastrophe theory is complex but its potential as a viable explanation of the anxiety-performance relationship outweighs the efforts needed to test it. 

Future studies examining the anxiety-performance relationship might consider how wheelchair athletes interpret anxiety, and studies examining team sports also should take into account the effect of success and failure within a game to determine how these two factors relate to the different CSAI-11 subscales.”

Reversal Theory 

Reversal theory is another theory of anxiety in sports situations, and it was given by Apter, and this theory is a combination between Drive theory and Inverted U Theory.

Reversal theory, as proposed by Apter (1982), has characteristics associated with both drive and inverted-U theory. it is as much a theory of personality as it is a theory of arousal. In the reversal theory, people are described as being either telic or paratelic dominant, and the theory says that individuals who are Telic-dominant hmay have a more goal-directed orientation towards life.

On the other hand, individuals who are more paratelic-dominant may be more fun-loving and have a “here-and now”  or somewhat hedonistic sort of orientation. 

When the athlete is in a telic frame of mind, they seek to reduce the level of arousal they are experiencing so that they may be able to bring about a state of relaxation, or “reverse” the feeling or experience.

Additionally, when the athlete is in a paratelic frame of mind, they may seek to increase arousal in order to increase excitement, again, choosing to reverse an experience.

This theory says that the athlete’s ability to switch back and forth between telic and paratelic modes is referred to as psychological reversal and it is how anxiety is experienced and manifested in the athlete.

Other Alternatives to Multidimensional Anxiety Theory

The other main alternatives to the Multidimensional anxiety theory are:

  • Fazey and Hardy’s Catastrophe Theory,
  • Hanin’s Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning Theory
  • Jones’ Directionality Theory
  • Apter’s Reversal Theory 

Out of these, the Catastrophe theory is the most significant one, which may be guessed given that it was mentioned by the study on a test of multidimensional anxiety theory in male wheelchair basketball players.

The main and basic assumption of the Inverted-U theory are that small incremental increases in arousal lead to small incremental increases or decreases in performance and that moderate arousal results in optimal performance. 

The Catastrophe Theory does not accept these notions readily, and states that the basic variables of the model should be cognitive anxiety, physiological arousal instead of somatic anxiety and performance. 

This theory then suggests that any relationship between physiological arousal and athletic performance may take the form of the inverted-U when cognitive anxiety is low, but it will take a very different form when cognitive anxiety increases. 

When the level of cognitive anxiety is too high, an athlete’s performance may increase gradually as in the inverted-U, but at some points as psychological arousal continues to rise,performance will show a catastrophic drop-off. 

In other words, if cognitive state anxiety is high, an increase in physiological arousal can result in a sudden and large decrement in athletic performance.

The basic tenets of Fazey and Hardy’s catastrophe model were tested by Hardy and Parfitt in 1991 and Hardy Parfitt, and Pates in 1994, and both of these studies provided strong support for the basic tenets of catastrophe theory.


In this brief guide, we discussed the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory, a test of multidimensional anxiety theory in male wheelchair basketball players, Reversal theory and cognitive theory.

There are many theories of anxiety, and most try to describe what it does and how it comes about in the first place, and these etiology theories usually seek to help the eventual intervention plans as well.

The multidimensional anxiety theory may be just another addition to a very long list of theories that seek to explain anxiety and how it works, so that one may create the necessary intervention plans, but it still needs to be adequately validated and tested, like the cognitive behavior theories have.

If you have any more questions or comments about the Multidimensional anxiety theory, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Multidimensional Anxiety Theory

Who created the multidimensional anxiety theory?

A sports psychologist, Martens, created the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory which is based upon the idea that anxiety, specifically  anxiety felt when one is engaging in competitive sport or conditions of pressure associated with sports, is multidimensional in nature, and it may include a cognitive anxiety component and a somatic anxiety component.

What is somatic and cognitive anxiety?

Somatic anxiety refers to physical manifestations of anxiety, like through physical symptoms, like palpitations, dizziness, or shallow breathing, while cognitive anxiety refers to the mental manifestations of anxiety, like not being able to think straight, not being able to make decisions, or even extreme fear that does not have any real-world basis.

What is the inverted U theory in sport?

The ‘inverted U’ theory in sport is a theory of anxiety that proposes that sporting performance improves in direct correlation with arousal levels, but that there is also a threshold point to this improvement, after which continued arousal will lead to worsening of performance.

According to the inverted U theory, low arousal levels mean that the performance quality will be low and this theory says that sporting performance peaks at medium arousal levels.

What is somatic state anxiety?

Somatic state anxiety refers to physical symptoms caused by the feeling of anxiety, which may be caused by the presence of threatening stimuli, and in conditions where there is a stressful situation, the person may become increasingly aware of their heart rate. ventilation rate, and sweating.


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