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Is there positive in the negative? Understanding the role of guilt and shame in physical activity self-regulation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Laura Meade, Shaelyn Strachan, Brittany Semenchuk

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Early online date22 Feb 2019
Accepted/In press31 Jan 2019
E-pub ahead of print22 Feb 2019


King's Authors


The high rate of global physical inactivity has led researchers to explore the psychological variables that impact physical activity (PA) behaviours. Drawing from tenets of control theory and literature on self-conscious emotions, the current study investigated the experience of guilt and shame in response to engaged in and missed PA. One hundred and fifty-four adults (Mage = 34.02, SD = 12.27) completed online questionnaires over a three-week period. Paired sample t-tests showed participants experience more guilt and shame after a missed intended PA session than an engaged-in session and, of the two, guilt is felt more strongly (t (150) = 8.31, p < .001). Following a missed PA session, attribution dimensions were explored; locus of causality was associated with guilt (p = .02) and stability with shame (p =. 01). Logistic regressions showed guilt had a negative relationship with PA intentions, and guilt and shame did not predict future PA. This finding is at odds with control theory and past empirical evidence. This disparity suggests the need for future research to explore these emotions within the PA domain to further inform the nature of their relationship. This research was the first to measure and explore the acute, real-life experience and motivational qualities of guilt and shame relative to PA engagement. Research implications and future directions are discussed.

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