Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Trash Talk, Motivation and Performance, Emotion, Cognitive Distraction

Major Advisor

Kenneth Lachlan

Associate Advisor

Ross Buck

Associate Advisor

John Christensen

Field of Study

Communication Sciences

Open Access

Open Access


This study explored the effects of verbally aggressive insults on an opponent’s performance in a competitive setting, i.e. ‘trash talk.’ Bringing together literature from a number of fields, a model was tested which hypothesized that the perception of verbal insults would increase cognitive distraction, elevate levels of emotional arousal, and affect motivation to perform, such that competitive performance would decrease. Anger and shame were posited as the primary manifestations of emotional arousal. The study was operationalized through a video game racing competition as a true experiment with control and verbal insult conditions. Both groups received an auditory treatment delivered by confederates working with the study, but it was hypothesized that perceptions of verbally aggressive insults in the experimental group would drive the effects predicted above. The results indicated that dimensions of distraction did not directly affect game performance but instead mediated the relationship between perceived insults and participants’ motivation to perform. By contrast, shame and anger both had direct effects on game performance but had either non-significant or un-hypothesized relationships to motivation to perform. Moreover, it was assumed that anger would be the dominant emotion felt as a result of perceived verbal insults, but shame produced stronger effects and partially mediated the experience of anger. Post hoc analyses were conducted to help explain some unexpected results and provide direction for future study. These analyses of supplemental variables suggested that a general lack of arousal related to the nature of the experiment might explain the non-significant results of some hypothesized paths.