After an incredibly stressful day of work, which are you more likely to do: walk several miles home, or get on a bus straight to your door? While the first option certainly comes with increased health benefits — including, potentially, decreased stress — many of us would choose the second anyway.
A new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, seeks to understand why, even when we know how positive exercise can be, we often fail to be active after work. It could come down to how high-pressure your job is, according to Sascha Abdel Hadi from Justus-Liebig-University Giessen and team — and how much control you have over your work.
Think back to the last time that you did some exercise. What exactly prompted you to get up and do it? Was it because it was scheduled? Or because you felt a strong urge to engage in some physical activity (or maybe a bit of both)?
Traditionally, researchers have explored a person’s general disposition to exercise, and looked at strategies to increase their exercise levels over a week, a month, or longer. However, a team led by Matt Stults-Kolehmainen at Yale University, Yale-New Haven Hospital and Columbia University argues in new work in Frontiers in Psychology that it’s also crucial to consider transient changes in in-the-moment wants, desires and urges for physical activity and also rest. “Typically, we understand motivation as a more stable construct – e.g. ‘I am not motivated today’ — or a trait — ‘I am not a motivated person’. This new perspective views motivation right now,” Stults-Kolehmainen says. And the team believes that by influencing these feelings, people can be encouraged to exercise more often.
When the US National Basketball Association (NBA) was forced to pause the season due to Covid-19 on March 11 last year, the fans were naturally devastated. When the season resumed five months later, with the top 22 teams bubbled together and playing every game in Orlando, Florida, this was great news for the sport, and the fans — and a pair of US researchers. Andrew McHill at Oregon Health and Science University and Evan Chinoy at Leidos Inc, in San Diego, realised that the restart provided a perfect natural experiment to explore the effects of travel on play. Their study, published in Scientific Reports, reveals some insights into causes of the well-documented sporting home-side advantage.
When Usain Bolt or Serena Williams step out for their latest race or match, the world waits with bated breath. As some of the best athletes in the world, their unbelievable winning streaks have been met by almost universal acclaim — and plenty of people hoping that streak isn’t broken.
But according to Jesse Walker from Ohio State University and Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University, that investment and goodwill just isn’t the same when it comes to teams: we’re far less impressed by consecutive wins by groups of people than those by individuals. They call this phenomenon the “Streaking Star Effect” in their new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Starting a new habit isn’t always easy — we probably only have to look at our own history of failed New Year’s Resolutions to know that. One common frustration is that things don’t happen fast enough — we start doing something that’s supposedly good for us but don’t see a significant behaviour change as quickly as we’d hoped.
That certainly seems to be the case with exercise, at least according to a new study in Frontiers in Psychology. It found that people only feel they’ve become more active when they increase the amount of vigorous activity they do — if it’s moderate, they don’t feel like they’ve changed at all.
Keeping to goals or new habits is not easy — so much so that there’s a cottage industry of life coaches, motivational speakers and stationery companies offering you tricks, hints, motivational journals and other products apparently designed to keep you on the straight and narrow.
But there might be an easier — and considerably cheaper — way of doing things. Rather than trying to motivate ourselves alone, Katie S. Mehr and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania argue in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, copying the strategies that our friends use may provide us with some much needed drive.
For many, running a marathon is seen as the ultimate amateur athletic achievement; for others, it’s just the start. Ultramarathon runners often take on courses of incredibly impressive length, running 50 or 100 kilometres at one time or over several days.
Clearly this is physically demanding, and only those in seriously good shape will be able to take on such challenges — ultramarathon running involves stress on muscles and bones, blisters, dehydration, sleep deprivation and mental and physical fatigue, so it’s really not for the faint of heart.
When a gym recently opened up near my house, I was determined to go regularly and make the most of the facilities. And I did — for about a month. But gradually, my visits became fewer and further between, until I realised I was paying for a bunch of machines and slabs of metal that I hadn’t touched in weeks. Guiltily, I cancelled my membership.
But perhaps I have my personality to blame. A new study tracking gym users has honed in one key factor that is related to how often they visit: their “planfulness”. This aspect of our personality, say the researchers, could be “uniquely useful” for predicting a range of goal-directed behaviours.
This is Episode 17 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.
Can psychology help make running more enjoyable? Our presenter Christian Jarrett speaks to several experts about various strategies including “cognitive reappraisal” and the benefits of taking part in organised runs. He also hears how some of us are genetically disposed to find running less enjoyable than others, and why that isn’t an excuse for giving up.
Our guests, in order of appearance, are: Dr Grace Giles (US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, Natick), Dr John Nezlek (SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Faculty in Poznan and College of William & Mary, Williamsburg VA), Dr Marzena Cypryańska (SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw), and Professor Eco de Geus (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam).
Episode credits: Presented and produced by Christian Jarrett. Mixing and editing Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work Tim Grimshaw.
Minds run free (Psychologists, like much of the population, have been bitten by the running bug. What do they get out of it, and does their experience chime with the science? Christian Jarrett and Ella Rhodes investigate.)
To win a medal of any kind at the Olympic Games takes years of training, hard work and sacrifice. Standing on an Olympic podium is widely regarded as the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. Nonetheless, only one athlete can win gold, leaving the two runner-up medallists to ponder what might have been. Intriguingly a seminal study from the 1992 Olympic Games suggested that this counterfactual thinking was especially painful for silver medallists, who appeared visibly less happy than bronze medallists. The researchers speculated that this may have been because of the different counterfactual thinking they engaged in, with bronze medallists being happy that they didn’t come fourth while silver medallists felt sad that they didn’t win gold.
However, subsequent research based on the 2000 Olympic Games did not replicate this finding: this time silver medallists were found to be happier than bronze medallists. To further muddy the waters, a study from the 2004 Games was consistent with the seminal research, finding that straight after competition, gold and bronze medallists were more likely to smile than silver medallists, with these smiles being larger and more intense.
Now further insight into the psychology of coming second or third comes via Mark Allen, Sarah Knipler and Amy Chan of the University of Wollongong, who have released their findings based on the 2016 Olympic Games. These latest results, published in Journal of Sports Sciences, again challenge that initial eye-grabbing result that suggested bronze medallists are happier than silver medallists, but they support the idea that the nature of counterfactual thinking differs depending on whether athletes come second or third.