Schedule of Events | Search Abstracts | Symposia | Invited Symposia | Poster Sessions | Data Blitz Sessions

Poster A56

Emotion regulation and salivary cortisol in Top 100 esports competitors

Poster Session A - Saturday, April 13, 2024, 2:30 – 4:30 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Kyle Nolla1 (, Mark Beeman1, Paul Reber1, Aiden Cella2, Emma Adam1; 1Northwestern University, 2Purdue University

Achieving expert-level skill in high-performance domains requires excellent emotion regulation. The emerging field of esports, or professionalized competitive gaming, provides an avenue for studying self-regulatory processes in experts. We suggest that competitors use emotion regulation to support performance by coping with negative emotions. Additionally, we suggest that physiological stress markers such as cortisol awakening response (CAR) reflect successful regulation. We surveyed players at 12 national-level Super Smash Bros tournaments. Players ranked in the Top 100 (top 0.1%) also completed 1) a salivary cortisol sampling protocol to measure CAR on one competition and non-competition day and 2) a semi-structured interview. 133 participants, including 28 elite, completed surveys. 18 elite players completed cortisol sampling and 12 gave interviews. Players who engaged in fewer maladaptive emotion regulation strategies had better performance (F(1,132) = 18.4, p < .01, R2 = 0.12), even controlling for rank and hours of practice (F(4,126) = 19.7, p < .01, R2 = 0.39). In domain-specific surveys, emotion regulation was a separate factor from other facets of skill like sensorimotor ability. CAR was blunted on competition days which may indicate poor coping. Finally, inductive coding of interviews revealed common themes: 1) elite players modulate bodily responses to achieve optimal performance, 2) they adapt growth mindsets to maintain resilience, and 3) they strategically manage social feedback. In conclusion, for elite competitors, the psychological demands of tournament competition are high, but they utilize several adaptive strategies – even if those strategies do not necessarily result in “normal” physiological stress on competition days.

Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions


CNS Account Login


April 13–16  |  2024