Do You Even Lift? An Experimental Study of #Fitspiration Messages and Their Effects on Correlates of Exercise Behavior per Social Cognitive Theory
Fitspiration (also known as fitspo) is a popular online trend particularly on Instagram and is often credited for the rapid growth of contemporary fitness culture and the fitness industry in general. This dissertation evaluates the central thesis that fitspiration messages may have utility in health promotion by influencing muscle-strengthening exercise behavior among viewers and that this influence can be explained, in part, through the application of social cognitive theory’s (SCT) framework for health behaviors. These potential effects were examined among a population of emerging adults (i.e., 18 – 25 years of age) in the context of (1) encouraging the adoption of muscle-strengthening exercise behavior among individuals who have never performed such exercises before and (2) increasing and/or sustaining adherence among those who have but may not be doing so regularly.
Using a 2 x 2 between-subjects experiment involving 315 undergraduate students at Purdue University, this study was guided by two research aims. Research Aim 1 was to further understand the mechanisms through which fitspiration messages could influence exercise behavior by examining the structural paths of influence between core constructs within the SCT framework. Research Aim 2 sought to examine the effects of specific fitspiration message features on the SCT determinants of exercise behavior.
This study extends SCT in several ways. First, this study provides support for conceptualizing self-efficacy as a multidimensional construct and that different types of self-efficacy influence exercise behavior differently. Second, the findings in this study assessed the mediational pathways within the SCT framework when conceptualizing self-efficacy and outcome expectations multidimensionally.
Although the manipulations in this study did not produce significant findings in terms of the effects of fitspiration message features, the findings do suggest that these effects occur in subtle ways that warrant further examination in future studies.