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A social identity approach to understanding physical activity.

Stevens, M., 2019. A social identity approach to understanding physical activity. Doctoral Thesis (Doctoral). Bournemouth University.

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STEVENS, Mark_Ph.D._2018.pdf



Against the backdrop of a global physical inactivity crisis, prevailing approaches to understanding physical activity behaviours are characterised by a predominant focus on individual-level factors (e.g., cognitions, attitudes, motivations). These approaches largely fail to account for the possibility that these factors—that is, our individual psychology—are not only influenced by us (i.e., as individuals) but also by the groups we belong to. Drawing on an approach that provides a comprehensive analysis of how people’s individual psychology is structured by group life, this thesis outlines, and tests, a fresh perspective from which to understand the pervasive problem of high, and largely stagnant, physical inactivity levels. More specifically, this social identity approach suggests that the groups to which people belong can be, and often are, incorporated into their sense of self and, through this, are powerful determinants of behaviour. Four empirical studies (two-cross sectional, one over time, and one experimental, with a total of 1130 participants) are reported in which the efficacy of the social identity approach, and associated social identity approach to leadership—a perspective which considers leaders’ effectiveness contingent on the extent to which they represent, advance, create, and embed a shared sense of identity among group members—are tested in various physical activity settings. Study 1 provided initial real-world evidence that forming a strong social identity as a member of a particular exercise group (i.e., as a parkrunner) is associated with greater group-relevant participation, more positive experiences of participation, and broad health-related outcomes. Study 2 provided initial evidence for positive relationships between group members’ perceptions of their sport or exercise leader’s engagement in social identity leadership, members’ group identification, and members’ group-relevant attendance. Extending findings from study 2, study 3 provided evidence for positive relationships between identity leadership, group identification, and group-relevant attendance in the context of a two-wave design. Study 4 provided experimental evidence for the positive impact of leaders engaging in identity leadership on individuals’ effort during, and performance of, an exercise task. Overall, findings provide consistent support for the efficacy of the social identity approach, and social identity approach to leadership, in physical activity settings. As such, the thesis makes an important contribution to the physical activity literature by highlighting the impact that individuals’ identification—and perceptions of their leaders’ capacity to foster a strong sense of identification within their physical activity groups—can have on their behaviour. More broadly, this thesis indicates the need for research to consider the psychology of both individuals as individuals and as group members in efforts to understand physical activity behaviour.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information:If you feel that this work infringes your copyright please contact the BURO Manager.
Uncontrolled Keywords:physical activity; social identity; leadership
Group:Bournemouth University Business School
ID Code:31680
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:24 Jan 2019 16:27
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:14


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