Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 18

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Among other things, these researchers found that age and sex are particularly common markers of shared social identity in exercise settings and that participants who perceived themselves to be similar to other group members in terms of physical characteristics i.


Such findings suggest that people seek out and create ingroups and outgroups in exercise settings [ 85 ] and that the opportunity to exercise with other ingroup rather than outgroup members is therefore an important determinant of their continued engagement in exercise [ 86 ]. They also suggest that people who design exercise programmes need to attend to both 1 the opportunities these provide for emergent social identities and 2 the ways in which the programme allows these identities to be enacted and maintained e.

Supporting these assertions, a recent randomized controlled trial of the Football Fans in Training FFIT programme revealed a significant 4. FFIT is a week programme delivered exclusively to overweight male football fans to improve their diet and physical activity. Crucially, participants share a common social identity as fans of the same team, with interaction between ingroup members assured. Such interaction is also facilitated within many other recently developed exercise programmes e.

These various lines of research all speak to the idea that social identities can have profound implications for participation in, and adherence to, physical activity. However, as yet, the body of research that supports such claims is relatively small. Moreover, it is further limited by a predominant focus on healthy, non-clinical populations. Given the additional barriers to participation experienced by clinical populations e. Indeed, such groups would represent a unique challenge to programmes designed to provide opportunities for social identities to emerge and be harnessed.

Examination of the benefits of group exercise environments, where multiple individuals undertake the same structured exercise activity, is not new. Indeed, the effectiveness of interventions that involve individual- and group-based exercise environments have been studied extensively, with good evidence that group environments are more effective than individual environments in promoting adherence.

Social Processes Faculty--R. L. Moreland

Efforts to develop cohesiveness within exercise groups have proved particularly effective [ 88 ]. Most notably, these benefits include long-term increases in physical activity [ 89 — 91 ] see Estabrooks et al. For example, the influential model by Carron and Spink [ 94 ] proposes that a sense of distinctiveness plays an important role in motivating members of exercise groups to engage in group-relevant activity see also Bruner and Spink [ 95 , 96 ].

Clarifying the causal role of social identification in these outcomes, experimental research that enhanced social identification by providing group t-shirts and encouraging participants to develop a group name found this led to greater subsequent effort in a group task [ 97 ]. Such findings suggest that social identity is a key mechanism that underpins the effectiveness of group-based programmes in exercise settings.

Again, though, this hypothesis is yet to be extensively tested. In particular, there is a need for much more empirical research to explore the role that social identities play in the effectiveness of various forms of exercise groups, interventions, and programmes in the world at large e. According to the social identity approach, it is the shift in self-categorization from a personal to a social identity that underpins social collaboration and indeed all forms of group behaviour [ 73 ].

Extending this reasoning, social identity theorizing contends that, when people categorize themselves as members of the same group i. However, at the same time, the capacity for any given individual to exert influence varies as a function of his or her capacity to represent and embody the meaning of the group in a given social context. Although the efficacy of the social identity approach to leadership has yet to be extensively examined in exercise settings, a vast body of other research supports its applicability to this context.

Benefits associated with identity leadership in other mainly organizational contexts include increased satisfaction [ — ], effort [ , ], and support for leaders [ 98 , , ] as well as reduced turnover intentions [ , ] and burnout [ ]. Such findings appear to have clear relevance to exercise settings. For example, higher levels of burnout have been extensively linked to motivation loss and dropout among sports team players [ — ], emphasizing the value of minimizing the occurrence of burnout in exercise settings.

This suggests there would be particular value in exercise leaders 1 taking opportunities to learn about group history, culture, and functioning and 2 attending to collective group values, norms, and goals. Understanding these nuanced dimensions of group identity will enhance their capacity to be perceived as a prototypical group member and thus engender support e. Again, though, empirical tests of the identity leadership approach in clinical and non-clinical exercise settings are now needed to confirm its seemingly substantial potential and to identify factors that moderate i.

Aspects of the approach may, for example, be less applicable in clinical settings e. However, at the same time, the relative value of leaders helping to create an appropriate identity for such a group e. These nuances await research. Indeed, the research Steffens et al.

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Nevertheless, Wegge et al. The social identity approach represents a potentially fruitful but greatly under-examined framework for understanding and promoting physical activity. It also presents a viable alternative to the individualistic treatments that currently dominate the theoretical landscape. In the limited space available here, we have provided three brief illustrations of the ways in which this approach might enrich theory and practice.

Our hope is that, though barely sketched out here, the framework we have outlined will serve as the foundation for an exciting new wave of original research into the role that group and identity dynamics play in shaping physical activity behaviours. Certainly, the clear applicability of the approach to this domain, and the substantial contribution it has already made in others, makes us confident that the approach has the capacity to drive a groundswell of empirical research, and that the advances this would yield would be considerable.

Steffens, S. Alexander Haslam and Remco Polman have no conflicts of interest that are relevant to the content of this manuscript. No sources of funding were used in the preparation of this article. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.

Sports Medicine Auckland, N. Sports Med. Published online Mar Steffens , 3 S. Alexander Haslam , 3 and Remco Polman 4. Niklas K. Alexander Haslam. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Mark Stevens, Email: ku. Corresponding author. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

Abstract Against the backdrop of a global physical inactivity crisis, attempts to both understand and positively influence physical activity behaviours are characterized by a focus on individual-level factors e. Key Points Social factors have a significant impact on physical activity behaviours, and our understanding of their influence will be improved by applying theories of group behaviour to this context. The social identity approach provides a valuable framework from which to explore the impact of social factors on physical activity behaviours.

Through three broad examples, we illustrate how the social identity approach has the potential to enrich both theory and practice in the physical activity domain.

Open in a separate window. Introduction In this article, we highlight the potential for a social identity approach to advance understanding and promotion of physical activity behaviours. Physical Activity, Health, and Participation Rates The influence of physical activity on health and well-being is well documented. Current Approaches to Understanding and Promoting Physical Activity Given this physical inactivity pandemic [ 23 , 26 ], considerable effort has been devoted to understanding physical activity behaviours.

A Social Identity Approach to Understanding and Promoting Physical Activity

Recent Advances in Understanding Behaviour Change Researchers have recently explored new avenues in attempting to advance understanding of behaviour change, including the development of taxonomies of the numerous strategies that have been employed in the context of smoking cessation [ 48 ], alcohol consumption [ 49 ], and healthy eating and physical activity [ 50 , 51 ].

The Social Identity Approach The social identity approach comprises two theories: social identity theory [ 12 , 71 , 72 ] and self-categorization theory [ 73 — 76 ].

The Social Identity Approach Applied to Physical Activity Social Identity can be Harnessed to Promote Engagement in Physical Activity In line with the foregoing arguments, research by Terry and Hogg [ 77 ] found that individuals who identified strongly with a group in which exercise was normative reported greater intentions to engage in regular exercise than those who identified weakly with the group. Social Identity Underpins Exercise Group Behaviour Examination of the benefits of group exercise environments, where multiple individuals undertake the same structured exercise activity, is not new.

Social Identity Underpins Effective Leadership in Exercise Settings According to the social identity approach, it is the shift in self-categorization from a personal to a social identity that underpins social collaboration and indeed all forms of group behaviour [ 73 ]. Conclusion The social identity approach represents a potentially fruitful but greatly under-examined framework for understanding and promoting physical activity.

Funding No sources of funding were used in the preparation of this article. Footnotes 1 We consider physical activity in the widest sense, including exercise and sport participation.

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