The MTQ48: Academic Debates


Academic debate concerning the value and appropriateness of the MTQ48 has once again resurfaced.  Gucciardi and colleagues and members of the MTOUGH group have exchanged views in Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. In terms of the process, Gucciardi and colleagues were allowed to respond to our criticisms of their initial paper and that concludes the debate in that particular journal. Their final response is available in the latest edition of the above journal. Disappointingly, while our response was strictly with the word limit for the response, Gucciardi and colleagues were allowed almost double the words and such were able to elaborate points more fully.

I have invited other academics involved in the development of the MTQ48 to comment and hopefully I will add their thoughts in the near future. I will leave more crucial aspects of the data analysis to my other colleagues to explain, nevertheless there are a couple of responses that are important at this stage. We all agree that measurement is a crucial aspect of psychological study and in particular with regard to mental toughness. This type of exchange is not new; indeed consider the heated debates that have occurred concerning psychological wellbeing and the work of Carol Ryff in developing a 6-factor model and the Scales of Psychological Wellbeing questionnaire. In the end, both sides “dig in” and present alternative perspectives and data to support their arguments. In presenting a robust defense of her work, Dr. Ryff then refused to continue engaging with what was obviously going to be a futile debate that meant less time being devoted to actually applying knowledge for the benefit of the general population. It feels like we have reached a similar stage.

There are a couple of points that I would like to make. First, in using some of my work, and choosing quotes out of context to attack the initial development of the MTQ48 is ever so slightly disingenuous. To be clear, I was not involved with the initial development of the MTQ48 or the 4C’s model. I have worked with Peter Clough and I have used his model and measure in my work. Reference to the “theoretical foundations of hardiness” does not mean that the MTQ48 is a measure of hardiness. In the initial qualitative work of Clough and colleagues the emerging construct of mental toughness did (and still does in a wide variety of studies) share some characteristics with hardiness and other constructs such as resilience. Should this be ignored or should we engage with this existing evidence and make sense of this in context of what is known of related constructs? Why use my work to attack the model?  As we pointed out in our original response, you could ask the man that developed it – that would have seemed the obvious thing to do to avoid confusion. One can find inconsistencies in virtually every body of work if one looks hard enough and takes quotes out of context. In my original PhD work on the effects of music, I saw several instances like this where comments made by leading researchers appeared to be inconsistent but mostly this was down to choice of language. I made my points without needing to specifically target sentences that were open to interpretation. I felt no need to get personal as that would just result in bitter and acrimonious exchanges rather than helpful and constructive academic debate.

Second, Gucciardi and colleagues continue to doubt the importance of a CFA conducted on the MTQ48 by independent researchers in 2009 (Horsburgh et al.). As is well known, presenting a full psychometric analysis of a measure produces a large amount of data and the Gucciardi et al (2012) paper was a good example of this. Horsburgh et al. (2009) did what Gucciardi et al. have recommended recently – they conducted a psychometric analysis of the MTQ48 even though this was not the main aim of their work. The main aim was a “twins” study that enabled a behavioural genetic analysis of mental toughness and to evaluate relationships with the big 5 personality factors. With a journal word limit of 5000 words there is little wonder that Horsburgh et al. did not present a full account of the psychometric analysis as that was not the main aim of the paper. I suspect Gucciardi and colleagues were well aware of this.

I have to say that the need to consult and then name so many other sport and exercise psychologists at the beginning of their response did also smack of the “Playground Bully”. One of the interesting things concerning my recent conversations with Professor Robert Weinberg during his visit to Lincoln in April 2013 was that he felt that his own work, much of the other existing work on mental toughness, and including the 4C’s model, had far more consistency than difference. It is a shame that there appears to be a need to focus far more on difference than similarity in the present debates. For example, Chris Harwood’s work in professional football has highlighted key themes that bare a remarkable similarity to the 4C’s model. In a recent presentation, Dr Steve Peters talked about why “commitment” not motivation, was the key difference in those that he sees as the success stories in elite sport. My own ongoing qualitative work both inside and beyond sport  is consistently finding challenge, commitment, life control, emotional control, self-confidence, and interpersonal confidence as key themes – or at least themes that resemble these. Yes, other themes have also emerged in my qualitative work but the themes (subscales) measured by the MTQ48 consistently appear. As we pointed our previously (Perry et al., 2013) the MTQ48 will evolve over time and is not the perfect measure, yet it has value and stands up well against any other existing measure of mental toughness.

The MTQ48 has been, and is being extensively used in applied settings and with ongoing research. We have so much data, and so many studies that we could continue the rest of our academic careers with never collecting any more data and we still would not have enough time to publish all the studies. We could spend the rest of our academic lives running one CFA or equivalent tests after another using huge sample sizes to defend the measure but there are quite frankly more interesting things to do. End users are more interested in what they can do to enhance mental toughness and how this can benefit them or their organisation and that will be our focus.

From a personal perspective I value and respect the work of Gucciardi and colleagues. Many of his previous studies have been central to better understanding mental toughness but I still fail to see how attacking the MTQ48 is really moving the field forward.