Chery, M-C, Borysewicz, B and Caldwell, M  (2001)  'Shaping Presentation of Self in Every day Life: gym bunnies and musclemen' [online] 

[A promising but brief attempt to build a model to incorporate the main reasons for people wanting to attend the gym. In true psychological style, it considers personal and context specific attitudes, and suggests possible connections between them -- rather disappointingly general ones it turned out].

Lots of people attend a gym, especially in Australia, and we obviously need to know why. It seems that notions of self concept, motivation, and 'attitudes to situation specific factors' are involved  [no page numbers]

Self concept refers to the image that one has of oneself, and this obviously has a physical dimension. Both men and women like to look good. Both use fitness activities to affect their physical appearance and their health, although there are gender differences: men like strong muscular bodies, while women like  'slim, lithe, "feminine" bodies'. Men want to increase their body size, while women want to reduce it and stay feminine. The source of these body ideals is related to the wider culture, including the media.  [Lots of studies are cited here, but none of the problems are outlined].

Motivation affects both initial and continued participation, and these may be different. In particular, initial participation seems to be associated with factors such as  'affiliation, novelty seeking, weight control, achievement, self-control, self confidence and stress relief', while continued participation turns more on  'psychological well-being; self-identity; and means of staying fit and slim; and  "addiction"'. People refer to intrinsic motivation in terms such as enjoyment, while extrinsic motivation is indexed by rewards of various kinds. Motivation may also be instrumental.

Situational factors can affect consumer behaviour, and the main ones appear to be
  • personal  ('needs, levels of motivation competency... self efficacy, time commitments, mood, health, energy levels');
  • interpersonal  ( 'social support... help... attitudes of significant others');
  • social comparison, although this can inhibit some participants as well;
  • Belongingness  ( 'feelings of connectedness with others'), and again this can put some people off by making them feel excluded
  • Product  ( 'reputation of the gym, price, location, ambience, choice of activities... equipment, quality of instruction').

Eight individuals were interviewed in depth, equally divided between frequent attenders and infrequent attenders, and including both genders. Unstructured interviews were then coded, and intercoder reliability measured. Consistency with earlier findings was checked, and rival explanations tested  [we are not sure how -- and consistency is an interesting one, where sometimes it is a good thing and sometimes not]. Other appears checked for interviewer biases and problems of wording.

Discrepancies  'between the actual and ideal self' is a major motivator for initial attendance, especially for beginners and infrequent attenders. Frequent attenders seem happier with their body shape. Participants reported having been influenced by the media. They were gender differences again, turning on building muscle for men, losing weight or gaining tone for the women. An interest in health seemed to be equally important.

Participants display a range of motivations, although frequent attenders seemed more strongly motivated  [no surprises here!]. Infrequent attenders tended to be more marginal in terms of attendance and duration of sessions. All of them seem to use  'self persuasion strategies', especially the frequent attenders. Support for mothers were encouraging. Infrequent attenders seemed more reliant upon a personal trainer. Overall, soft persuasion strategies seemed more effective than feedback.

Social comparison was on the whole  'facilitative rather than inhibitive'. The aspects of the gym were important here in moderating any unhelpful comparisons, permitting people to attend without risk of embarrassment, or to choose particular activities that would not expose their inadequacies. Infrequent attenders seem to like social support. Individual differences here seemed more important than gender ones.

Overall, personal and product factors seem more important for frequent attenders, while social support works better with infrequent ones. Belongingness had no apparent impact. [This is a case where there is an inconsistency with previous work, which calls forth a further explanation:  'it may be the comparisons between two groups... rendered it difficult to identify specific group cohesiveness issues'].

Overall, it is now possible to formulate a model  [a pretty simple affair with the main factors in boxes connected by arrows and feedback loops]. The point seems to be that frequent attendance supplies experience that can help people modify their initial trigger a motivations. More research is needed to actually add concrete data on how this works. Other work suggests that self efficacy might be a key factor, for example. One practical suggestion is that gym managers might provide specific programmes for  'consumer segments'.

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