Dr Sarah Williams

Dr Sarah Williams

School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
Lecturer in Sport Psychology and Coaching Science

Contact details

School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Sarah is internationally known for her work in imagery to enhance performance and wellbeing. She has published over 30 papers related to imagery ability and imagery use. She has a particular interest and focus in using mental imagery to elicit more facilitative appraisals and responses to stress.


  • PhD in Sport Psychology, University of Birmingham
  • BSc (Hons) in Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham


Sarah completed her PhD in 2011 and was awarded the Outstanding PhD Thesis Award by the British Psychological Society’s Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology. She was appointed as a lecturer in Sport Psychology at the University of Birmingham in September 2011.

Sarah’s early research focussed on ways to assess and enhance athlete imagery ability. Over time, Sarah developed an interest in stress and competition, and particularly the idea that stress and anxiety don’t have to have negative consequences for athletes. She has published work investigating how imagery can be used to effectively regulate stress and anxiety. Sarah established how imagery scripts could be used by athletes to experience more positive appraisals and anxiety responses to stress. More recently, Sarah has broadened this work beyond athlete populations. Using sport psychology theories and frameworks, Sarah develops scripts to use in a variety of populations to regulate more positive appraisals and responses to psychological stress. Sarah has also developed interventions to train individuals in how to use imagery to regulate acute and long-term stress.

Sarah’s work has been published widely in leading sport and exercise psychology journals such as Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, and European Journal of Sport Science, as well as interdisciplinary and health psychology journals such as Psychophysiology, Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, and Journal of Affective Disorders. She is also an Associate Editor for the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.


Sarah is joint module lead for the year 2 Sport and Performance Psychology model. She also teaches on the year 1 Sport, Exercise, and Health Psychology module, and supervises undergraduate and master’s dissertation students in imagery and stress related research projects.

Postgraduate supervision

Sarah’s research lab includes a vibrant group of PhD, MRes, and MSc by research students. She has supervised four PhD students, two MRes students, and one MSc by research student through to completion. Sarah welcomes applications from prospective PhD, MRes, and MSc by research students with interests that align with her research agenda. Specific areas include:

  • Imagery interventions to regulate stress
  • Elucidating the mechanisms through which imagery improves appraisals and responses to stress
  • Techniques to enhance imagery’s effectiveness


Sarah’s research focusses on the use of mental imagery to effectively improve performance, health, and wellbeing.

Sarah has a particular expertise in creating effective imagery scripts to regulate more positive appraisals and responses to acute and long-term psychological stress. She is also interested in understanding the mechanisms through which these imagery scripts operate to influence coping and performance in stressful or pressurized situations. Through this work, Sarah has developed an interest in understanding what factors might influence perceptions of appraisals and psychophysiological responses to stress, as well as imagery’s effectiveness in eliciting more positive responses.

Sarah is also known for her work in the development of techniques to assess imagery, and enhance imagery’s effectiveness.

Sarah uses sport psychology theories and frameworks, to apply her imagery scripts to diverse populations across a variety of environments (e.g., athletes and performance, reducing anxiety in anxious university students, increasing engagement in physical activity in older adults). Sarah’s work also extends beyond interventions where she utilizes a unique interdisciplinary approach to elucidate the mechanisms through which imagery is beneficial. For example, she examines underlying physiological, neural, and behavioral responses to imagery interventions.


Recent publications


Trotman, G, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J, Davies, J, Moller, C, Ginty, AT & Williams, S 2019, 'Associations between heart rate, perceived heart rate, and anxiety during acute psychological stress', Anxiety, Stress and Coping, vol. 32, no. 6, pp. 711-727. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2019.1648794

Chauntry, A, Williams, S & Whittaker, A 2019, 'Blunted cardiovascular responses to acute psychological stress predict low behavioural but not self-reported perseverance', Psychophysiology, vol. 56, no. 11, e13449. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13449 SFX

Williams, S 2019, 'Comparing movement imagery and action observation as techniques to increase imagery ability', Psychology of Sport and Exercise, vol. 44, pp. 99-106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2019.05.005

Quinton, M, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J, Trotman, G, Cumming, J & Williams, S 2019, 'Investigating the protective role of mastery imagery ability in buffering debilitative stress responses', Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 10, 1657. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01657

Trotman, G, Williams, S, Quinton, M & Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J 2018, 'Challenge and threat states: examining cardiovascular, cognitive, and affective responses to two distinct laboratory stress tasks', International journal of psychophysiology : official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology, vol. 126, pp. 42-51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2018.02.004

John-Henderson, N, Williams, S, Brindle, RC & Ginty, AT 2018, 'Changes in sleep quality and levels of psychological distress during the adaptation to university: the role of childhood adversity', British Journal of Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12314

Kosteli, M-C, Williams, S & Cumming, J 2018, 'Exploring imagery as a technique for promoting physical activity in older adults', Imagination, Cognition and Personality. https://doi.org/10.1177/0276236618767083

Trotman, G, Gianaros, P, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J, Williams, S & Ginty, A 2018, 'Increased stressor-evoked cardiovascular reactivity is associated with reduced amygdala and hippocampus volume', Psychophysiology. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13277

Quinton, M, Cumming, J & Williams, S 2018, 'Investigating the mediating role of positive and negative mastery imagery ability', Psychology of Sport and Exercise, vol. 35, pp. 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2017.10.011

Kosteli, M-C, Cumming, J & Williams, SE 2018, 'Self-Regulatory Imagery and Physical Activity in Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A Social-Cognitive Perspective', Journal of aging and physical activity, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 14-24. https://doi.org/10.1123/japa.2016-0024

Kosteli, M-C, Heneghan, N, Roskell, C, Williams, S, Adab, P, Dickens, A, Enocson, A, Fitzmaurice, D, Jolly, C, Jordan, R, Greenfield, S & Cumming, J 2017, 'Barriers and enablers of physical activity engagement for patients with COPD in primary care', International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, vol. 12, pp. 1019-1031. https://doi.org/10.2147/COPD.S119806

Williams, S, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J, Trotman, G, Quinton, M & Ginty, AT 2017, 'Challenge and threat imagery manipulates heart rate and anxiety responses to stress', International journal of psychophysiology : official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2017.04.011

Anuar, N, Williams, S & Cumming, J 2017, 'Do the physical and environment PETTLEP elements predict sport imagery ability?', European Journal of Sport Science, vol. 17, no. 10, pp. 1319-1327. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2017.1377290

Weibull, F, Cumming, J, Cooley, S, Williams, S & Burns, V 2017, 'Examining the Feasibility of a Short Intervention for Improving Exercise Imagery Ability', Journal of Imagery Research in Sport and Physical Activity, vol. 12, no. 1. https://doi.org/10.1515/jirspa-2016-0008

Williams, S, Carroll, D, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J & Ginty, AT 2016, 'Anxiety symptom interpretation: A potential mechanism explaining the cardiorespiratory fitness-anxiety relationship', Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 193, pp. 151-156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2015.12.051

View all publications in research portal