The objective of this investigation was to examine the cognitive characteristics of individuals who demonstrate successful and unsuccessful self-regulation of physical activity behavior. In Study 1, participants articulated 1-week intentions for physical activity and wore a triaxial accelerometer over the subsequent 7 days. Among those who were motivated to increase their physical activity, those who were most and least successful were administered an IQ test. In Study 2, a second sample of participants completed the same protocol and a smaller subset of matched participants attended a functional imaging (fMRI) session. In Study 1, successful self-regulators (SSRs) scored significantly higher than unsuccessful self-regulators (USRs) on a test of general cognitive ability, and this difference could not be accounted for by favorability of attitudes toward physical activity or conscientiousness. In Study 2, the IQ effect was replicated, with SSRs showing a full standard deviation advantage over USRs. In the imaging protocol, USRs showed heavier recruitment of cognitive resources relative to SSRs in the anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortex during performance of a Stroop task; SSRs showed heavier recruitment in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Hall is with the Departments of Kinesiology and Psychology and Fong is with the Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Elias, Borowsky, and Sarty are with the Department of Psychology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada; and Harrison is with the Department of Psychology, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.