Automatic Regulation of Physical Activity

Open Access
Hyde, Amanda L.
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 13, 2013
Committee Members:
  • David E Conroy, Dissertation Advisor
  • Steriani Elavsky, Committee Member
  • Nilam Ram, Committee Member
  • Eric Loken, Committee Member
  • Lacy Marie Alexander, Committee Member
  • habits
  • automatic evaluations
  • implicit attitudes
  • exercise
  • behavior
  • motivation
The large majority of Americans are physically inactive and society and individuals are paying the price in terms of financial, health, and wellbeing burdens. Physical activity regulation is a dual-process system of controlled (e.g., attitudes, intentions, task beliefs) and automatic (e.g., habits, automatic evaluations) processes. The controlled regulatory processes that are the focus of most conventional physical activity motivation theories, and the target of most interventions, are not translating into large, maintained behavior change. The broad aim of this dissertation is to add breadth to our understanding of physical activity motivation by investigating how the automatic processes of habits (behavioral response tendencies) and automatic evaluations (spontaneous classifications of stimuli as good or bad) regulate physical activity, while accounting for the dynamic nature of physical activity and controlled motivation of physical activity. This dissertation consists of six studies that include measurement of physical activity habits and automatic evaluations, repeated assessments of controlled and automatic regulatory processes and physical activity, and direct- and self-reported assessments of physical activity. Data analyses techniques including hierarchical and multiple linear regression and structural equation modeling are used to investigate the automatic regulation of physical activity from between-person, within-person, and measurement perspectives. The results of the dissertation reveal that (1) habits regulate daily physical activity unless physical activity intentions are stronger than typical, (2) changes in automatic evaluations are linked to changes in physical activity when automatic evaluations become more favorable, (3) the validity of an implicit measure of automatic evaluations of physical activity is improved with a new scoring technique, and (4) automatic evaluations and habits regulate different components of physical activity. As a result of this dissertation, it can be concluded that regular physical activity is the result of a dynamic and interactive dual-process system of controlled and automatic regulatory processes. Automatic processes regulate behavior when self-regulatory resources are depleted from stress, fatigue, or time pressure. People are feeling increasingly more stressed and crunched for time, so it may be that automatic regulatory processes can improve our understanding of what motivates regular physical activity. Future interventions targeting both controlled and automatic regulatory processes are likely to be the most effective for enhancing regular physical activity.