When in Rome: Descriptive norms and physical activity

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Objectives:The purpose of this research was to examine the impact and detectability of descriptive norms (perceptions of others’ physical activity) on an individual’s self-reported activity. Given the suggestion that individuals often underestimate the effect of others on their own behavior, we wished to examine the relative weights that individuals ascribed to normative reasons versus personal reasons for being active.Design:A cross-sectional study (N = 75) was conducted where participants were drawn from two different settings (office workers and university students).Method:Participants completed a survey that assessed their stated reasons for being active, their current activity behavior (Godin & Shepard, 1985), and their descriptive norm perceptions about others’ activity.Results:A planned contrast revealed that personal reasons (i.e., health and appearance) were rated as stronger motivators of activity than the normative reason, but regression results revealed that descriptive norm perceptions predicted activity after controlling for individuals’ perceived reasons for being active. Further, descriptive norm perceptions associated with friends’ activity appeared to be most associated with individual activity.Conclusions:While the perception of others’ behavior was reported as less influential in one’s decision to be active, perceptions about others’ activity were highly correlated with individual’s own activity supporting the suggestion that descriptive norms may be more important in predicting activity than previously suspected.

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