The dualistic model of passion (DMP) describes two types of passion, namely harmonious and obsessive passion. This model allows for a better understanding of the passion of people involved in sport (athletes, coaches, referees, and fans) as well as the outcomes they experience.
The DMP defines passion as a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity (person or object) that one likes (or even loves), finds important, and in which one invests time and energy. In fact, passionate activities become part of one’s identity because they are so important and valued. The process through which the activity comes to define someone is called the internalization process. In other words, with the internalization process, what was once external to the self becomes a part of it. More specifically, the internalization of a passionate activity can take place in two different ways, which lead to two different types of passion.
First, harmonious passion results from an autonomous internalization, which occurs when individuals freely accept the activity as important for them and choose to engage in their passionate activity, without any contingencies attached to it. With harmonious passion, there is a smooth integration between the passionate activity and our identity. Thus, the activity occupies a significant, but not overpowering, space in the person’s identity and remains in harmony with other aspects of the person’s life. Consequently, people with a harmonious passion are able to fully focus on the task at hand and experience positive outcomes both during and after task engagement. Furthermore, when prevented from engaging in their passionate activity, people with a harmonious passion are able to adapt well to the situation and focus their attention and energy on other tasks that need to be done. Thus, there is little or no conflict between the person’s passionate activity and other life domains. Finally, with harmonious passion, the person can decide when to and when not to engage in the activity. This is because, with harmonious passion, the person is in control of the activity.
In contrast, obsessive passion is the product of a controlled internalization. This type of internalization originates from intra and/or interpersonal pressure such as of self-esteem or social acceptance contingencies that are attached to the activity or because the feeling of excitement derived from activity engagement is uncontrollable. With obsessive passion, the activity becomes a part of one’s identity because it is loved but also because it brings other, more extrinsic benefits such as a boost of self-esteem or a reward. Therefore, people with an obsessive passion find themselves in the position of experiencing an uncontrollable urge to partake in the activity they view as important and enjoyable. This is because, with obsessive passion, the person is not in full control of the activity. Rather, the activity controls the person.
On the foregoing basis, the DMP posits that harmonious and obsessive passion for sport ought to lead to different affective, cognitive, and behavioral consequences. Specifically, harmonious passion is conducive to more positive outcomes compared with obsessive passion.
Passion, Affective Consequences, and Well-Being
The type of passion one holds toward an activity plays a significant role in the affective consequences that individuals are likely to experience both during and after activity engagement, as well as when prevented from engaging in the passionate activity. With harmonious passion, people volitionally engage in the passionate activity with an openness and a mindfulness that allow them to fully partake in the activity and thus to experience positive affective experiences more fully. This is not the case with obsessive passion, where one’s engagement is more defensive and is less conducive to full engagement in the activity. Specifically, research has shown that harmonious passion is positively related to positive affect in sport as well as in life in general, while it is unrelated to negative affect. In contrast, obsessive passion is conducive to negative affect and is unrelated or only slightly related to positive affect in sport as well as in life in general.
Along the same line, harmonious passion is associated with higher levels of psychological well-being (PWB) compared to obsessive passion. In line with Barbara Frederickson’s broaden-and build theory, the positive relation between harmonious passion and PWB is mediated by the effects of positive emotions experienced with harmonious passion. This is because positive emotions allow one to have access to the self by broadening the attention and thought–action repertoires made available to the person, and subsequently facilitating the use of adaptive processes, such as coping with adversity and stress. This is not the case for obsessive passion, as it is typically unrelated to positive emotions.
Passion and Cognitive Processes
Harmonious passion entails an open and mindful form of task engagement, whereas obsessive passion facilitates a more defensive form of activity engagement. Therefore, harmonious passion facilitates adaptive cognitive processes (such as concentration, flow, and better decision making [DM]), whereas obsessive passion leads to less positive cognitive processes. In fact, empirical evidence shows that soccer referees with an obsessive passion make worse decisions during a soccer match than those with a harmonious passion. Another study shows that obsessive passion from fans prevents full concentration in other life activities taking place on the same day as the passionate activity (i.e., game). In contrast, this is not the case for harmonious passion.
Passion and Physical Health
Physical health can be affected by passion in a number of ways. For example, regularly engaging in a passionate activity such as sport may positively contribute to health by leading people to experience increases in physical well-being over time. However, obsessive passion can also put people’s health at risk by leading them to engage in risky sport or because of ill-advised rigid persistence in the activity, such as cycling on icy roads. In addition, obsessive passion can constitute such a risk factor for injuries. This is because with obsessive passion, people continue to engage in the activity when they should not and thus risk creating or aggravating an injury. This is not the case for harmonious passion. In fact, research demonstrates that harmonious passion leads individuals to derive positive psychological and health benefits from regular engagement in the activity. On the other hand, research conducted with dancers reveals that obsessive passion is a risk factor for the development of chronic injuries.
Passion and Performance
Passion leads athletes to engage in deliberate practice, a specific form of practice that focuses on improving one’s skills. In fact, one must love an activity dearly and have the desire to keep on practicing if one is to engage in the activity for long hours over several years (sometimes a lifetime). Therefore, both forms of passion lead athletes to engage in deliberate practice that, over time, leads to improved performance. Research has shown that achievement goals (i.e., competence-based aims that an individual seeks to accomplish in an achievement setting) serves as mediator in the relationship between both types of passion and performance. Specifically, people with a harmonious passion pursue mastery goals (i.e., a focus on the development of personal competence and task mastery) that lead to deliberate practice that, in turn, leads to performance. In contrast, people with an obsessive passion also pursue mastery goals (that lead to performance through deliberate practice), but they mostly pursue performance approach goals (i.e., a focus on the attainment of personal competence relative to others) and especially performance-avoidance goals (i.e., a focus on avoiding incompetence relative to others) that negatively and directly influences performance. In addition, only individuals with a harmonious passion experience PWB while attempting to reach high levels of performance in sport.
In sum, both types of passion may facilitate performance. However, it appears possible that the highest levels of performance can be reached through a painless, even happy, passionate engagement in the sport to the extent that it is harmonious in nature.
Passion and Interpersonal Outcomes
A better understanding of the coach–athlete relationship is important if we are to help athletes reach their goals in sport while feeling good about their activity engagement. The type of passion one holds for sport represents an important factor that allows both athletes and coaches to experience high-quality relationships. Specifically, athletes’ harmonious passion toward their sport is positively related to various indices of relationship satisfaction with their coach. In contrast, athlete’s obsessive passion is mostly unrelated to those relationship indices. This is because harmonious passion leads people to fully immerse themselves in the activity and to experience positive emotions that can be shared with others. Furthermore, positive affect, generally experienced by coaches, serves as a mediator in the relation between harmonious passion toward coaching and coaches’ perceived relationship quality with their players. Conversely, obsessive passion for coaching is unrelated to positive affect or relationship with the athletes. In addition, obsessive passion for soccer can conflict with the romantic life of soccer fans. It is not the case for harmonious passion.
On the Development of Passion
There are at least three processes through which an interesting activity such as sport can transform into a passionate activity. These processes are (a) activity selection, (b) activity valuation, and (c) the type of internalization process that takes place. First, activity selection refers to the person’s preference for the activity over other activities. To the extent that the person feels that such selection reflects true choice and interests and is consonant with her or his identity, it should promote the development of passion toward that activity. Activity valuation (or the subjective importance given to the activity by the person) is expected to play an important role in the internalization of the identity. The more valued the activity is, the more this activity will be internalized in the person’s identity and the more passionate the person will be toward this activity. The type of passion that will develop also depends on the type of internalization that takes place. A harmonious passion will develop if the internalization process is carried in an autonomous fashion. In contrast, an obsessive passion will develop if the internalization takes place in a controlled fashion.
The internalization process is influenced by the social environment as well as by personal factors. More precisely, social environment (i.e., parents, coaches, peers) and personal factors (i.e., individual differences and personality processes) that promote a person’s autonomy will lead to the development of a harmonious passion by facilitating the autonomous internalization process. In fact, coupled with high-activity valuation, both high autonomy support from close adults (parents, coaches, etc.) and autonomous personality style predict the development of a harmonious passion over time. In contrast, controlling social environment and personal factors will lead to the development of an obsessive passion by facilitating the controlled internalization process. Specifically, coupled with strong activity valuation, both the lack of autonomy support and controlled personality style predict the development of an obsessive passion.
In conclusion, the two types of passion, namely harmonious and obsessive, matter greatly for sport participants because they lead to a host of important consequences (affect, cognitions, subjective well-being [SWB], performance, physical health, etc.) that are typically adaptive and maladaptive, respectively.
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