A longitudinal study on how implicit attitudes and explicit cognitions synergistically influence physical activity intention and behavior

Carolin Muschalik*, Iman Elfeddali, Math Candel, Hein de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Strategies to promote physical activity (PA) focus mainly on changing or fostering explicit cognitions and are only modestly effective. Contemporary studies suggest that, as well as explicit cognitions, implicit cognitions influence health behavior, such as PA, and that implicit processes interact with the intention to be active. Relatively little is known about whether implicit processes interact with other explicit cognitions which determine PA intention and behavior, i.e. self-efficacy. The aim of the current study was to investigate the direct effects of explicit cognitions and implicit attitudes on PA behavior as well as interactions between them regarding intention and behavior prediction.

METHODS: In a longitudinal study, participants (N = 340) completed self-report measures of explicit cognitions (perceived pros, perceived cons, social norms, social modeling, self-efficacy, intention) and activity levels, as well as a Single-Category Implicit Association Task to measure implicit attitudes towards PA at baseline (T0), and at one (T1) and 3 months thereafter (T2).

RESULTS: Hierarchical multiple regressions revealed that T0-positive implicit attitudes moderated the relationship between T0 self-efficacy and T1 PA. Similarly, T0-neutral implicit attitudes were associated with the relationship between T0 intention and T1 PA. Negative implicit attitudes strengthened the negative relationship between perceived cons and intention at baseline; neutral or positive implicit attitudes strengthened the positive relationship between self-efficacy and intention. At the follow-ups, the relationship between social modeling and intention was strengthened by negative implicit attitudes.

CONCLUSION: This study revealed important insights into how implicit attitudes and explicit cognitions synergistically predict PA intention and behavior. As well as targeting explicit cognitions, steering a person's implicit attitude towards a more positive one, i.e. by implicit cognitive trainings, could help to increase both PA intention and behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalBMC Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2018


  • Adult
  • Exercise/psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Young Adult

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