Research & Insights

Stronger Together Than on Our Own? Group Identity and Exercise

By Karen Backes

Fiona Grant, Michael A. Hogg, and William D. Crano, Claremont Graduate University

Ever wonder what gets gym rats out of bed and into the gym? A new study suggests being physically active has less to do with self motivation and more to do with group identification.

Writing in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers Fiona Grant, Michael A. Hogg and William D. Crano of Claremont Graduate University suggest that members of “exercise-promoting groups” are more likely to lace up their sneakers and head off to the gym than their peers who aren’t joiners. Their conclusions are based on findings from on an online survey taken by 130 physically active adults recruited from a fitness and wellness group on Facebook. 

The participants each completed a questionnaire that assessed their motivations for exercise. It included measures of their physical activity behavior, including their confidence to be physically active in a variety of less-than-ideal situations (such as when they were tired or in a bad mood), their expectations regarding exercise (how much participants agreed with statements such as “physical activity gives me a sense of personal accomplishment”) and the degree to which they identified with a group that promotes physical activity (“How important to you is it to be a member of this [exercise] group?”).

The researchers found that participants who identified strongly with exercise-promoting groups like yoga clubs and sports teams were more physically active than those who did not identify with any such groups. Additionally, these participants felt more confident that they would be able to find time to exercise in a variety of situations and perceived more benefits for being physically active when compared their counterparts. Overall, the findings indicate that the influence of others has a considerable positive impact on how much people exercise.

According to the researchers, many exercise programs focus too much on individual factors – like changing peoples’ expectations about exercise and encouraging people to believe in their ability to exercise – that affect health behavior adoption, “underestimat[ing] the power of social factors, group membership, and the social environment and the influence of other people as a group.”

Journal of Applied Social Psychology

Karen Backes is a third-year psychology major at the University of Florida.


Posted: January 11, 2016
Tagged as: