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Positive affect and physical activity: Testing effects on goal setting, activation, prioritisation, and attainment

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Objective: The present research tested whether incidental positive affect promotes pursuit of physical activity goals. Four key features of goal pursuit were examined – setting physical activity goals (Study 1), goal activation (Study 2), and goal prioritization and goal attainment (Study 3).

Design: Participants (N s = 80, 81, and 59, in Studies 1–3, respectively) were randomized to positive affect (joy, hope) or neutral affect (control) conditions in each study.

Main Outcome Measures: Questionnaire measures of goal level, goal commitment, and means selection (Study 1); a lexical decision task indexed goal activation (Study 2), a choice task captured goal prioritization and MET minutes quantified goal attainment (Study 3).

Results: Study 1 showed that positive affect led to a greater number of intended physical activities, and that joy engendered greater willingness to try activities. In Study 2, a positive affect induction led to heightened activation of the physical activity goal compared to the control condition. The joy induction in Study 3 led to greater physical activity, and a trend towards greater goal prioritization.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that positive affect enhances the pursuit of physical activity goals. Implications for health behavior theories and interventions are outlined.
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Keywords: exercise; goals; joy; physical activity; positive affect

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK 2: Unilever Research & Development, Bedford, UK 3: Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2018

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