Motivating Exercise: The Interactive Effect of General Action Goals and Past Behavior on Physical Activity

Justin Hepler, Wei Wang, Dolores Albarracin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although exercise is recognized as a powerful tool to combat obesity, remarkably few US adults pursue adequate amounts of exercise, with one major impediment being a lack of motivation for active behaviors. Recent empirical work has demonstrated that behavior can be guided by goals to be generally active or inactive. In the present paper, an experiment is presented in which participants played or observed a video game, were primed with action or inaction goals, and practiced a stretching exercise for as long as desired. Exposure to environmental action cues led to increased time spent exercising. This effect was moderated by past behavior, such that individuals who had just engaged in an active task (played a videogame) were insensitive to attempts to motivate general action. This suggests that the effectiveness of attempts to motivate activity ("just do it", "be active") hinges on the recent past-behavior of the targeted individuals. An implication of this work is that participation in certain leisure activities, such as playing videogames, may be causally related to a lack of motivation for exercise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-370
Number of pages6
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012


  • Action
  • Activity level
  • Exercise
  • Goals
  • Motivation
  • Priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Motivating Exercise: The Interactive Effect of General Action Goals and Past Behavior on Physical Activity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this