Executive Functions, Trait Self-Control, and the Intention–Behavior Gap in Physical Activity Behavior

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Restricted access

Purchase article

USD  $24.95

Student 1 year subscription

USD  $84.00

1 year subscription

USD  $111.00

Student 2 year subscription

USD  $159.00

2 year subscription

USD  $208.00

Many people fail to translate their physical activity intentions into behavior. This intention–behavior gap can be explained by (a) explicit trait self-control, (b) implicit executive functions, and (c) their interactions. In 118 participants, the intention–behavior gap was measured in a prospective design. Trait self-control was assessed via self-report questionnaires, whereas executive functioning was measured with test performance in inhibition, updating, and shifting at baseline. Regression analysis showed that (a) higher trait self-control predicts a smaller intention–behavior gap; (b) updating performance is related with this gap; and (c) behavior in tests on inhibition, updating, and shifting moderate the relation between the trait self-control and the intention–behavior gap. The present study showed that the complex pattern that modulates the relation between intended and realized physical activity behavior includes trait self-control, executive functions, as well as the combination of these cognitive components supporting dual-process approaches of self-control including implicit and explicit processing components.

Ines Pfeffer is with the Faculty of Human Science, Medical School Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany. Tilo Strobach is with the Faculty of Human Science, Medical School Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.

Address author correspondence to Ines Pfeffer at ines.pfeffer@medicalschool-hamburg.de.
  • Adriaanse, M.A., Kroese, F.M., Gillebaart, M., & De Ridder, D.D. (2014). Effortless inhibition: Habit mediates the relation between self-control and unhealthy snack consumption. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 444. PubMed doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00444

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Aiken, L.S., & West, S.G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 179211. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-T

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Allan, J.L., Johnston, M., & Campbell, N. (2011). Missed by an inch or a mile? Predicting the size of intention-behaviour gap from measures of executive control. Psychology & Health, 26(6), 635650. PubMed doi:10.1080/08870441003681307

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Allan, J.L., Sniehotta, F.F., & Johnston, M. (2013). The best laid plans: Planning skill determines the effectiveness of action plans and implementation intentions. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 46(1), 114120. PubMed doi:10.1007/s12160-013-9483-9

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Allom, V., & Mullan, B. (2014). Individual differences in executive function predict distinct eating behaviours. Appetite, 80, 123130. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.05.007

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Allom, V., Panetta, G., Mullan, B., & Hagger, M.S. (2016). Self-report and behavioural approaches to the measurement of self-control: Are we assessing the same construct? Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 137142. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.10.051

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bandura, A. (1991). Social cognitive theory of self-regulation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 248287. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(91)90022-L

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bartholdy, S., Dalton, B., O’Daly, O.G., Campbell, I.C., & Schmidt, U. (2016). A systematic review of the relationship between eating, weight and inhibitory control using the stop signal task. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 64, 3562. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.02.010

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baumeister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D.M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 12521265. PubMed doi:10.1037/0022-3514.74.5.1252

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baumeister, R.F., & Heatherton, T.F. (1996). Self-regulation failure: An overview. Psychological Inquiry, 7(1), 115. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli0701_1

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baumeister, R.F., & Vohs, K.D. (2016). Chapter two—Strength model of self-regulation as limited resource: Assessment, controversies, update. In M.O. James & P.Z. Mark (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 54, pp. 67127). Cambridge, MAAcademic Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bertrams, A., & Dickhäuser, O. (2009). Measuring dispositional self-control capacity. A German adaptation of the short form of the Self-Control Scale (SCS-K-D). Diagnostica, 55(1), 210. doi:10.1026/0012-1924.55.1.2

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bertrams, A., & Englert, C. (2013). Umsetzung subjektiver Sporthäufigkeitsstandards [Implementing subjective standards of exercise frequency]. Sportwissenschaft, 43(4), 276282. doi:10.1007/s12662-013-0304-x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Best, J.R., Nagamatsu, L.S., & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2014). Improvements to executive function during exercise training predict maintenance of physical activity over the following year. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 353. PubMed doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00353

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buckley, J., Cohen, J.D., Kramer, A.F., McAuley, E., & Mullen, S.P. (2014). Cognitive control in the self-regulation of physical activity and sedentary behavior. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 747. PubMed doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00747

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Burton, N.W., Khan, A., Brown, W.J., & Turrell, G. (2012). The association between sedentary leisure and physical activity in middle-aged adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 46(10), 747752. PubMed doi:10.1136/bjsm.2010.081430

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Caspersen, C.J., Pereira, M.A., & Curran, K.M. (2000). Changes in physical activity patterns in the United States, by sex and cross-sectional age. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 32(9), 16011609. PubMed doi:10.1097/00005768-200009000-00013

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (pp. 2026). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  • Collins, A., & Mullan, B. (2011). An extension of the theory of planned behavior to predict immediate hedonic behaviors and distal benefit behaviors. Food Quality and Preference, 22(7), 638646. doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2011.03.011

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • de Ridder, D.T.D., Lensvelt-Mulders, G., Finkenauer, C., Stok, F.M., & Baumeister, R.F. (2012). Taking stock of self-control: A meta-analysis of how trait self-control relates to a wide range of behaviors. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16(1), 7699. PubMed doi:10.1177/1088868311418749

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dohle, S., Diel, K., & Hofmann, W. (2017). Executive functions and the self-regulation of eating behavior: A review. Appetite, 30, 1e6.

  • Duckworth, A.L., & Kern, M.L. (2011). A meta-analysis of the convergent validity of self-control measures. Journal of Research in Personality, 45(3), 259268. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.02.004

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Englert, C. (2016). The strength model of self-control in sport and exercise psychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 314. PubMed doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00314

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Englert, C. (2017). Ego depletion in sports: Highlighting the importance of self-control strength for high-level sport performance. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 15. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.02.028

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Englert, C., & Rummel, J. (2016). I want to keep on exercising but I don’t: The negative impact of momentary lacks of self-control on exercise adherence. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 26, 2431. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2016.06.001

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Lang, A.G., & Buchner, A. (2007). G* Power 3: A flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods, 39(2), 175191. PubMed doi:10.3758/BF03193146

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fishbach, A., & Shen, L. (2014). The explicit and implicit ways of overcoming temptation. In J.W. Sherman, B. Gawronski, Y. Trope, J.W. Sherman, B. Gawronski, & Y. Trope (Eds.), Dual-process theories of the social mind (pp. 454467). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fishbach, A., Zhang, Y., & Koo, M. (2009). The dynamics of self-regulation. European Review of Social Psychology, 20(1), 315344. doi:10.1080/10463280903275375

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fisher, R.J. (1993). Social desirability bias and the validity of indirect questioning. Journal of Consumer Research, 20(2), 303315. doi:10.1086/209351

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Flay, B.R., Snyder, F., & Petraitis, J. (2009). The theory of triadic influence. Emerging Theories in Health Promotion Practice and Research, 2, 451510.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Friedman, N.P., Miyake, A., Young, S.E., Defries, J.C., Corley, R.P., & Hewitt, J.K. (2008). Individual differences in executive functions are almost entirely genetic in origin. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 137(2), 201225. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.137.2.201

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gill, D.P., Jones, G.R., Zou, G., & Speechley, M. (2012). Using a single question to assess physical activity in older adults: A reliability and validity study. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 12, 20. PubMed doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-20

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hagger, M.S., Chatzisarantis, N.L.D., & Biddle, S.J.H. (2002). A meta-analytic review of the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior in physical activity: Predictive validity and the contribution of additional variables. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 24(1), 332. doi:10.1123/jsep.24.1.3

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hagger, M.S., Wood, C.W., Stiff, C., & Chatzisarantis, N.L.D. (2010). Self-regulation and self-control in exercise: The strength-energy model. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 3(1), 6286. doi:10.1080/17509840903322815

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, P.A., & Fong, G.T. (2003). The effects of a brief time perspective intervention for increasing physical activity among young adults. Psychology & Health, 18(6), 685706. doi:10.1080/0887044031000110447

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, P.A., & Fong, G.T. (2007). Temporal self-regulation theory: A model for individual health behavior. Health Psychology Review, 1(1), 652. doi:10.1080/17437190701492437

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, P.A., & Fong, G.T. (2013). Temporal self-regulation theory: Integrating biological, psychological, and ecological determinants of health behavior performance. In P.A. Hall & P.A. Hall (Eds.), Social neuroscience and public health: Foundations for the science of chronic disease prevention (pp. 3553). New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, P.A., Fong, G.T., Epp, L.J., & Elias, L.J. (2008). Executive function moderates the intention-behavior link for physical activity and dietary behavior. Psychology & Health, 23(3), 309326. PubMed doi:10.1080/14768320701212099

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, P.A., & Marteau, T.M. (2014). Executive function in the context of chronic disease prevention: Theory, research and practice. Preventive Medicine, 68, 4450. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.07.008

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, P.A., Zehr, C., Paulitzki, J., & Rhodes, R.E. (2014). Implementation intentions for physical activity behavior in older adult women: An examination of executive function as a moderator of treatment effects. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 48(1), 130136. PubMed doi:10.1007/s12160-013-9582-7

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hayes, A.F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hofmann, W., Friese, M., & Roefs, A. (2009). Three ways to resist temptation: The independent contributions of executive attention, inhibitory control, and affect regulation to the impulse control of eating behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(2), 431435. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.09.013

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hofmann, W., Friese, M., & Strack, F. (2009). Impulse and self-control from a dual-systems perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(2), 162176. PubMed doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01116.x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hofmann, W., Gschwendner, T., Friese, M., Wiers, R.W., & Schmitt, M. (2008). Working memory capacity and self-regulatory behavior: Toward an individual differences perspective on behavior determination by automatic versus controlled processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(4), 962977. PubMed doi:10.1037/a0012705

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hofmann, W., Schmeichel, B.J., & Baddeley, A.D. (2012). Executive functions and self-regulation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(3), 174180. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.tics.2012.01.006

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Milton, K., Bull, F.C., & Bauman, A. (2011). Reliability and validity testing of a single-item physical activity measure. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 45(3), 203208. PubMed doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.068395

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miyake, A., & Friedman, N.P. (2012). The nature and organization of individual differences in executive functions four general conclusions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1), 814. PubMed doi:10.1177/0963721411429458

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miyake, A., Friedman, N.P., Emerson, M.J., Witzki, A.H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T.D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41(1), 49100. PubMed doi:10.1006/cogp.1999.0734

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Muraven, M. (2010). Building self-control strength: Practicing self-control leads to improved self-control performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(2), 465468. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.12.011

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rhodes, R.E., & de Bruijn, G.-J. (2013). How big is the physical activity intention-behaviour gap? A meta-analysis using the action control framework. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18(2), 296309. PubMed doi:10.1111/bjhp.12032

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rhodes, R.E., & Dickau, L. (2013). Moderators of the intention-behaviour relationship in the physical activity domain: A systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(4), 215225. PubMed doi:10.1136/bjsports-2011-090411

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sallis, J.F., Haskell, W.L., Wood, P.D., Fortmann, S.P., Rogers, T., Blair, S.N., & Paffenbarger, R.S. (1985). Physical activity assessment methodology in the Five-City Project. American Journal of Epidemiology, 121(1), 91106. PubMed doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a113987

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schöndube, A., Bertrams, A., Sudeck, G., & Fuchs, R. (2017). Self-control strength and physical exercise: An ecological momentary assessment study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 29, 1926. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2016.11.006

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sharma, L., Markon, K.E., & Clark, L.A. (2014). Toward a theory of distinct types of “impulsive” behaviors: A meta-analysis of self-report and behavioral measures. Psychological Bulletin, 140(2), 374408. PubMed doi:10.1037/a0034418

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sheeran, P., & Webb, T.L. (2016). The intention–behavior gap. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 10(9), 503518. doi:10.1111/spc3.12265

  • Strack, F., & Deutsch, R. (2004). Reflective and impulsive determinants of social behaviorPersonality and Social Psychology Review, 8(3), 220247. PubMed doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0803_1

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Strobach, T., Frensch, P.A., & Schubert, T. (2012). Video game practice optimizes executive control skills in dual-task and task switching situations. Acta Psychologica, 140(1), 1324. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2012.02.001

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sudevan, P., & Taylor, D.A. (1987). The cuing and priming of cognitive operations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 13(1), 89. PubMed

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tangney, J.P., Baumeister, R.F., & Boone, A.L. (2004). High self-control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of Personality, 72(2), 271324. PubMed doi:10.1111/j.0022-3506.2004.00263.x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Verbruggen, F., Logan, G.D., & Stevens, M.A. (2008). STOP-IT: Windows executable software for the stop-signal paradigm. Behavior Research Methods, 40(2), 479483. PubMed doi:10.3758/BRM.40.2.479

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weinstein, N.D. (2007). Misleading tests of health behavior theories. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 33(1), 110. PubMed doi:10.1207/s15324796abm3301_1

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 443 443 39
Full Text Views 45 45 3
PDF Downloads 19 19 2