APA Journals Article Spotlight®

Summaries of recent APA Journals articles
photo of stack of magazines

September 28, 2017

Special Issue on Concussion in Sport: Psychological Perspectives

Cover of Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology (small)Anthony P. Kontos, PhD

Sport-related concussions affect millions of sport participants each year at all levels, from youth to professional athletes. Our understanding of this injury, including symptoms, impairment, assessment, risk factors, prognosis, and treatment continues to evolve at a rapid rate.

However, surprisingly, we know little about the role of psychological factors in predicting outcomes or the psychological sequelae that often accompany concussion.

The objective of the nine papers included in the September 2017 special issue "Concussion in Sport: Psychological Perspectives" published in Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, is to highlight these overlooked topics related to sport-related concussion.

In so doing, this special issue is the first to solely focus on psychology-related issues associated with this injury. The papers in the special issue present emerging quantitative and qualitative findings, and provide critical empirical reviews of the literature related to psychological issues associated with sport-related concussion.

Following a brief introduction by Kontos (2017), Covassin and colleagues (2017) critically examine the empirical evidence for psychological issues associated with sport-related concussion, including anxiety, depression, coping and social support. This paper sets the stage for the empirical papers that follow by providing context for the current state of research in this area.

The pendulum related to concussion awareness in sports has swung from lack of awareness and information a few years ago to hyperawareness and misinformation now. Consequently, many parents are questioning the wisdom of having their children play contact and collision youth sports.

To help us better understand this complex issue, Murphy et al. (2017) explored factors related to parents' decision to allow their children to play youth tackle football. Not surprisingly, their findings support the importance of perceived risk of concussion in this decision process that has far-reaching implications for the health and activity of children.

Assessment in concussion has received a lot of attention from researchers, with more than 300 articles published in this area during the past year alone (using a PubMed search for "concussion and assessment"). One focus of this research has been the effort put forth by athletes who might be motivated to underperform on health baseline neuropsychological tests.

Therefore, Schatz et al. (2017) examined if athletes' perceived utility of the test (i.e., is the test important?) influences test effort. Their findings indicate an increased risk of low effort associated with low perceived utility that highlights the importance of education and awareness of such testing.

It has long been hypothesized that psychological factors may influence concussion risk and outcomes following concussion. The next couple of papers focus on the association of personality factors to concussion and recovery. Beidler et al. (2017) in a large (nearly 1,300) sample of collegiate student-athletes reported limited association of concussion to personality factors. O'Rourke et al. (2017) indicated that among youth athletes, athletic identity, amotivation, and anxiety predicted more than 40% of the variance in symptoms.

The remaining papers focus on the psychological responses following concussion and include a qualitative paper by André-Morin, Caron, and Bloom (2017) that describes the challenges faced by female collegiate student-athletes following concussion. The researchers reported that the athletes experienced depression and suicide for which they sought emotional and informational support following their injury. These findings highlight the importance of clinicians in monitoring emotional responses to concussion in athletes that experience prolonged symptoms.

Next is a paper by Turner and colleagues (2017) in which they compare psychological responses between athletes with concussion and those with musculoskeletal injuries. Their findings indicate that psychological responses as measured by the Profile of Mood States improved over time regardless of injury type, suggesting that other factors such as social isolation and withdrawal may play a larger role than injury type.

In the final paper, Sandel et al. (2017) present a conceptual framework for understanding the anxiety/mood clinical profile that many patients experience following a concussion. These authors present a step-by-step process for evaluating and treating athletes with this clinical profile and then analyze the evidence for behavioral and other interventions.

Throughout the papers in the special issue, it is apparent that there is a gap in the empirical research on psychological issues associated with concussion. Therefore, the authors emphasize the need for theoretically driven, empirical research that utilizes new conceptual frameworks and comprehensive approaches to measuring outcomes to better understand the role of psychological factors in concussion moving forward.

Overall, the papers contained in this special issue — covering topics from risk factors to treatment — will appeal to both practitioners and researchers, and help to catalyze future inquiry in this important area of study.

Special Issue

Return to APA Journals Article Spotlight homepage

Note: This article is in the Clinical Psychology topic area. View more articles in the Clinical Psychology topic area.