Tag Archives: Exercise

Gordon Brown– hot or not? Physical appearance and election outcomes

As David Cameron, Gordon Brown, and other candidates prepare for the UK general elections, voters must decide whom to support. Although political ideology is (hopefully) a major influence on voting habits, a number of other factors about the candidates may sway voters as well. For example, many election observers have noted the seeming link between candidate height and election outcome– with taller candidates winning more. The BBC recently reported on how lately UK candidates have been emphasizing their exercise routine and physical fitness to the public; perhaps hoping that physical fitness translates into a perception of leadership fitness for voters. Or, candidates may be hoping to boost their perceived attractiveness (since perceived attractiveness has been linked the perception of other positive trait attributes) by spending a few extra hours in the gym.

Much research on first impressions has reiterated the importance of physical features in influencing judgments about a number of traits, including competence– which is strongly linked to voter support. Research altering the images of famous US presidents showed that subtle changes to their faces could greatly change perceptions of them.  Recent research in Political Psychology tried to examine more specifically the ways that first impressions (non-verbal at least) might influence social judgments other than competence and how those judgments may influence actual election outcomes. Just as previous research has suggested, judgments of competence were highly positively correlated with winning in a real election. However, somewhat surprisingly, when paired with judgments of incompetence, judgments of physical attraction were actually correlated with a lesser chance of winning an election than judgement of incompetence alone. In other words, if a first impression of incompetence is made, being seen as physically attractive actually makes your chance of winning even worse. So, according to this research if candidates are hoping to boost their physical appeal in order to sway voters, maybe they ought to make sure they are being seen as relatively competent first.

Read More:

Mattes et al. (2010). Predicting Election Outcomes from Positive and Negative Trait Assessments of Candidate Images, Political Psychology, 31, 1.

BBC– The election fitness trail – exercising power or PR?

Keating et al. (2002). Presidential Physiognomies: Altered Images, Altered Perceptions. Political Psychology, 20, 3.

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Want to keep those New Year’s resolutions?

In just a few days we’ll have a resolution double-whammy. Not just a new year, but a new decade. Seems like a perfect time to be jotting down those resolutions (or publishing them online), right? Making resolutions is one thing…but what about keeping them? What can social psychology tell us that will help increase the odds that this time next year we’ll be proud of ourselves for the changes we’ve made?

In a recent study Lally et al. found that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a new habit to become automatic. While 254 days of gym trips and healthier eating may seem daunting, there’s small comfort in their finding that missing one day did not seem to influence the habit formation process. Weidemann et al. found that action-planning and coping-planning also affect behavior change, particularly in behaviors related to health. Additionally, developing an action plan early on and preparing mentally for the obstacles you may confront as you try to keep your goal (coping-planning, further explained here) can also help you keep your goal.

So,

  • stick with your resolution for the long haul
  • don’t beat yourself up too much if you miss a day
  • develop a plan to help you reach your goal or keep your resolution
  • mentally imagine yourself overcoming any obstacles
  • and, while you’re at it, tell your friends, since that seems to help too!

(2009) Lally et al. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

(2009) Wiedemann et al. How planning facilitates behaviour change: Additive and interactive effects of a randomized controlled trial

(2005) Sniehotta et al. Action planning and coping planning for long-term lifestyle change: theory and assessment

(2009) Burkeman. This column will change your life, The Guardian

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Rising waistlines, falling grades?

By Erica Zaiser

The BBC reported on a recent survey by the British Heart Foundation which found that most parents in the UK vastly overestimate the amount of exercise their children are getting. While 72% of parents believe that their children are getting enough exercise, according to the survey, only one in ten children actually get the recommended amount of exercise per day.  As more children begin to suffer the ill effects of not exercising and because obesity in children is on the rise, there is added urgency to understand how weight impacts the lives of children.

A recent study by Clark, Slate, and Viglietti (2009), found that children who were severely overweight had significantly worse marks in all subjects than students who were not obese.  The same was seen with standardized test scores and was found even when controlling for economic status or student conduct. However, the results were only found among white students; weight was not significantly correlated with grades for students in other ethnic categories. The authors caution that much more research should be done as their sample was somewhat limited and that people should be careful of studies looking at weight categories because many children go through growth-spurts at different times. Furthermore, it is important to remember that their research only showed that weight and academic performance were correlated. It is impossible to say that obesity causes low grades when it could very well be the other way around or other factors may influence both grades and weight.

Regardless, the study is interesting because it highlights that the issue of obesity may be worrisome not just because of its ill effects on physical health. Children who are overweight might suffer from low self-esteem or become victims of bullying or social exclusion, all of which could impact their physical and mental health. There are still a number of questions that social psychologists could help answer: Why does obesity negatively correlate with academic success? Do teachers treat obese children differently than non-obese children? Or, are children who are suffering academically less likely to exercise and eat a proper diet?

Read more: David Clark, D., Slate, J. R., & Vigliett, G. C. (2009). Children’s Weight and Academic Performance in Elementary School: Cause for Concern?. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. 9, 1, 185-204.

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Working out for health, not for beauty

female-bodybuilding

People exercise more for health than for anything else including beauty, according to the results of a poll which was conducted by EveryDay Health and American Council on Fitness. It’s really a good news that more and more people realize that the motivation for exercise could significantly influent the exercise results.

 Exercise could not only benefit your physical health by lowering your blood pressure, maintaining your healthy joints, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, it also benefits your mental health. With respect to psychological wellbeing, participation in regular physical activity has already been shown to confer considerable benefit such as the reduction of anxiety, stress, and depression in individuals. However, research has also shown that not all individual benefit positively from physical exercise. The motivation for exercise has been found to be an important factor which influences the exercise results.

In particular, exercises sometimes could lead female exercisers to poorer body image and greater eating disturbance, if they overly focus on their physical appearances. Studies found that young women who exercise primarily to lose weight, to improve body tone, and to improve attractiveness were more likely to become more dissatisfied with their physical selves the more they exercise, regardless of the associated health and fitness benefits (McDonald & Thompson, 1992). It is because exercise is a slow and challenging means of appearance improvement that does not instantly change a woman’s shape. The long and frustrated processes often lead these women to feeling disappointed rather than a sense of achievement. Thus, it seems that the motivations women hold for exercise may play a significant role in the development and maintenance of body image concerns. Although research indicated that women’s motivation for exercise was more often related to weight and tone reasons than men, in general, for both genders, exercising for weight, tone, and attractiveness reasons was highly correlated with eating disturbance and body dissatisfaction. In contrast, exercising because of health was positively associated with self-esteem for both female and male.

square-eyeWhy Exercise? Health Trumps Beauty, Study Finds (Fox News)

 

square-eyeKaren McDonald, & J. Kevin Thompson (1992). Eating disturbance, body image dissatisfaction, and reasons for exercising: Gender differences and correlational findings.

Should we put our mind to it, go for it, get down and break a sweat?

treadmillA recent story in Time Magazine made a bold statement by proclaiming that while exercise and physical activity may improve physical and mental health, it may not help you lose weight. As the author acknowledges, there are a number of reasons this might occur. Physiologically, exercise can prompt the release of hormones that stimulate hunger, causing people to eat more. Additionally, as the article discusses, some dieters often reward themselves after workouts by consuming high-calorie foods that merely replace the calories burned during the workout.

Another possible explanation addressed in the article looks to social psychological research performed by Roy Baumeister and colleagues. In their pivotal studies about self-regulation, they found that when people are depleted of the energy to exercise self-control, they often engage in disinhibited behaviors, such as eating more. These studies have interesting implications for weight loss and exercise. For instance, people who are exercising frequently might also be dieting to lose weight. Dieters often employ substantial self-restraint throughout the day to resist tempting food. Thus, it might not be exercise that is leading to increased eating; rather, the frequent self-monitoring process of dieters may deplete them of the energy needed to resist fattening foods. On the other hand, exercise lowers blood sugar levels, including that of glucose, which has been intimately linked to self-regulatory abilities (Gailliot et al., 2007). Is it the case then that post-exercise hunger, which often leads to the consumption of high-sugar food, is simply the body’s way of returning to homeostasis?

It seems that social psychological research will have much more to say about this topic in the future, as it remains unclear whether it is dieting or exercise that is directly leading to the consumption of fattening foods. And if the booming weight-loss market tells us anything, it’s that people want to know the best way to get fit and look good.

square-eye Time Magazine: Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.

square-eye Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The Strength Model of Self-Control.

$1.99 Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Self-Regulation, Ego Depletion, and Motivation.

Exercise and addiction

96px-Weighted_sit-ups_on_an_exercise_ballAccording to the Daily Mail, neuroscientists from Tufts University, Boston suggest that exercise can be as addictive as heroin. Apparently ‘mild exercise such as jogging or bike riding can turn into triathlons and 100-mile bike rides.’ Biologists direct our attention to adrenalin, endorphins and even a genetic disposition to addictive behaviours, whereas, as social psychologists we are interested in the social conditioning aspect of that behaviour. Addictive behaviour then, is described in terms of its ability to resolve ego deficiencies or other psychological deficits—brought on, for example, by fear of social ridicule.

With much of society now focused on obesity and with an abundance of media images and articles describing how one can get the perfect body, it is hardly surprising that obsessive exercising is increasing or claimed to be as addictive as heroin. As social psychologists it is worth pausing for a moment to consider some of the gendered aspects of extreme exercise addiction. For example, Grogan and Richards (2002) suggest that male bodybuilders were using steroids to develop bigger muscles in an attempt to embody and display masculinity. Whereas Jansen et al. (2006) suggested that some women dieting and exercising for a feminine looking slim and curvy body, had developed the potentially fatal condition of anorexia athletica.

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Exercise can be as addictive as heroin

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The psychology and neurobiology of addiction: an incentive–sensitization view

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Theory of Addiction