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In observing others and participating in social exchanges, people learn about aspects of physical activity, become inspired or discouraged to be active, and are afforded physical activity and other choices that are pursued with varying degrees of effort and persistence. With respect to children and adolescents, peers are uniquely situated social agents that we could more intensively study and leverage to the benefit of understanding and promoting physical activity. The author presents a case for expanding peer-focused physical activity research. He overviews how peers can both facilitate and undermine physical activity motivation (i.e., through desire for affiliation, social comparison, and social rejection) and how peers express structure (i.e., flocking) in ways that may offer paths to successful physical activity promotion. He then presents knowledge gaps and critical conceptual and methodological considerations that must be addressed to advance scientific understanding and peer-focused physical-activity-promotion efforts.
The author is with the Dept. of Kinesiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.