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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A mixed-method examination of the effects of an affective mental contrasting intervention on physical activity behaviours Ruissen, Geralyn R.


University is a vulnerable period for discontinuing regular physical activity, which can have implications for individuals’ physical and psychological health (Bray & Born, 2010). Accordingly, it is imperative to find and implement cost and time-effective interventions to mitigate the consequences of this transition. Mental contrasting is a self-regulatory strategy that involves imagining the greatest outcome associated with achievement of a desired future goal while considering the aspects of one’s present situation that may serve as obstacles for attaining that same goal (Oettingen & Gollwitzer, 2010). Intervention research has shown that mental contrasting can be taught as a metacognitive strategy in a cost- and time-effective way, affecting numerous health behaviours including physical activity (Oettingen, 2012). Drawing from diverse theoretical perspectives (e.g., Bechara, 2005; Lawton, Conner, & McEachan, 2009; Williams, 2010), recent meta-analytic evidence suggests that affective judgements (e.g., enjoyable-unenjoyable) exert greater influence on physical activity behaviours than health-related instrumental judgements (e.g., useful-useless; Rhodes, Fiala, & Conner, 2009). The purpose of this thesis was to utilize mental contrasting as a means of targeting affective judgements, through intervention, in order to bolster physical activity promotion efforts. One hundred and ten inactive, female university students were randomly assigned to an affective, instrumental or standard mental contrasting intervention. Assessments were conducted at baseline, 1-week post intervention and 4-weeks post intervention. Participants in the affective mental contrasting condition displayed higher levels of self-reported MVPA than those in the instrumental or standard comparison conditions, F(2, 90) = 3.14, p < .05, ηp² = 0.065. Furthermore, results of a moderation analysis provided evidence that when participants were randomized to an affective mental contrasting condition, and highlighted outcome judgements that were affective in nature, they demonstrated the most pronounced increases in physical activity. Conversely, those randomized to an instrumental condition, who highlighted instrumental outcome judgments, had the lowest physical activity levels. Overall, affective mental contrasting has the potential to represent a low- cost and time-efficient intervention that may help inactive, female students increase activity or attenuate declining levels of MVPA that occurs during university.

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