The objective of the studies presented in this paper was to examine whether the need to belong can be used to enhance exercise cognitions and behavior. Two studies examined the effectiveness of framing exercise as a means of boosting social skills (versus health benefits) for self-regulatory efficacy, exercise intentions, and (in Study 2) exercise behavior. In Study 1, inactive adults primed to feel a lack of social belonging revealed that this manipulation led to greater self-regulatory efficacy (but not exercise intentions). In Study 2, involving a sample of inactive lonely adults, all participants reported engaging in more exercise; however, those in the social skills condition also reported a greater sense of belonging than those in the health benefits comparison condition. These findings provide an important basis for developing physical activity interventions that might be particularly relevant for people at risk for feeling socially isolated or lonely.
A. Justine Dowd, Toni Schmader, Benjamin D. Sylvester, Mary E. Jung, Bruno D. Zumbo, Luc J. Martin and Mark R. Beauchamp
Alan L. Smith
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.