Does stress affect nonverbal engagement in teams? A case study in professional team sport

Benjamin G. Serpell, Stephen Larkham, Christian J. Cook

    Research output: Contribution to journalOther Journal Articlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose Team effectiveness is often predicated by a group's ability to communicate. However, the effect of stress response on communication success, particularly nonverbal engagement, and how this might affect team performance, is not clear; a "phenomenon" this study sought to explore. Design/methodology/approach This was an observational study in a cohort of professional rugby players. Participants gave presentations to their peers on two separate occasions during a "live-in" camp designed to have psychologically stressful elements. Presentations were video recorded and audience engagement was measured. Testosterone and cortisol were used as biomarkers of stress response, with a high testosterone-cortisol ratio considered positive. A team training session followed the presentations and participants were rated for training quality. Findings A small decline in testosterone was observed each day after waking. Conversely, cortisol rose after waking, with the rise being the highest on the first day. A decline in testosterone-cortisol ratio was also seen each day after waking; the decline was greatest on the first day. Presentation duration and audience engagement was greatest for the second presentation; when the testosterone-cortisol ratio decline and the cortisol increase after waking was smaller. Training quality was also better that day. Pooled data revealed a moderate inverse relationship and weak positive relationships for audience engagement with post-meeting cortisol and post-meeting testosterone-cortisol ratio, respectively. Training quality was related to testosterone and testosterone-cortisol ratio, but inversely related to cortisol. Originality/value This study suggests that in stressful conditions, as suggested by an awakening hormone response, communication and team performance could become compromised with reduced ability to engage with others.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)197-210
    Number of pages14
    JournalTeam Performance Management
    Issue number3/4
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2020


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