Predicting Physical Activity Behaviour in Young Adults: Exploring the Role of Social-cognitive and Affective Correlates

Author: Rosemary Walsh

Walsh, Rosemary, 2017 Predicting Physical Activity Behaviour in Young Adults: Exploring the Role of Social-cognitive and Affective Correlates, Flinders University, School of Psychology

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Abstract

Declining or insufficient physical activity is frequently reported among young adults, particularly among university students. Because behaviour patterns established during this period often continues into adulthood, affecting later healh outcomes, understanding the determinants of physical activity participation in young adult university students could assist in developing targeted interventions aimed at increasing physical activity participation in this demographic. This thesis presents five empirical studies that investigate the prediction of physical activity behaviour in young adult university students, using social-cognitive and affective predictors, based upon the theory of planned behaviour, social-cognitive theory and previous research. A three wave longitudinal study of physical activity and predictors in first year university students is discussed in Chapter 2. The majority of participants were found to be sufficiently active, and physical activity participation remained stable throughout the year, contrasting with previous research. Past behaviour, theory of planned behaviour constructs (i.e. attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioural control and intentions), self-efficacy, social support, and positive affect emerged as important predictors, with each significantly predicting differences in physical activity behaviour between individuals, but not changes over time. The time one, cross-sectional data from this same sample is the focus of chapters 3 and 4. In Chapter 3, the moderating roles of past behaviour, self-efficacy, social support, and positive affect on the intention-behaviour gap is explored. In this study each of these predictors was found to significantly assist the translation of intent into behaviour. In Chapter 4, the roles of past behaviour, self-efficacy and social support are further examined in an extension of the theory of planned behaviour model. The addition of past behaviour, self-efficacy and social support explain additional variance in intentions and physical activity. Past behaviour and self-efficacy each predict both intentions and physical activity, after controlling for theory of planned behaviour constructs and social support, supporting their inclusion in the augmented model. Attitudes remain a significant predictor of intentions after including past behaviour, self-efficacy and social support, highlighting their strength as a predictor of intentions. In a new cross-sectional sample of young adult university students examined in Chapter 5, the roles of attitudes, intentions, self-efficacy and social support are examined. The results highlight intentions as the mediator between each predictor (attitudes, self-efficacy, and social support) and physical activity, suggesting that social support can counteract the deficits associated with low self-efficacy. Finally, in Chapter 6, the respective roles of implicit and explicit attitudes in the prediction of intentions and physical activity is examined in a third cross-sectional sample of young adult university students. Implicit attitudes are shown to predict physical activity indirectly through both explicit attitudes and intentions in a causal chain. Collectively these studies suggest that Australian young adult university students are typically more active than cohorts studied elsewhere. The findings underscore the importance of attitudes, past behaviour, self-efficacy, social support, and positive affect in the prediction of physical activity behaviour in young adult university students, and present several mechanisms by which these factors contribute to physical activity. These findings provide valuable insights into intervention techniques which have the potential to influence physical activity behaviour in young adults studying at university, and therefore impact future adult activity levels and health.

Keywords: Physical Activity, Attitudes, Theory of Planned Behaviour, Young Adults, Self-efficacy, Social Support, Mood, Health, University Students
Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Psychology
Supervisor: Professor Eva Kemps