Congratulations to our Principal Psychologist Dave for co-authoring and publishing his recent research on expectations and needs support, in the context of exercise messaging! This work can be found in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, see here!
The authors explored the effects of overexaggerated claims and controlling language in exercise messages. In particular, they either provided participants a greatly exaggerated message of the benefits of an upcoming exercise session, or no message. They also participated in a mundane exercise group that either provided needs support that helped with intrinsic motivation (a well established method for maintaining enjoyment and motivation, see: Self Determination Theory) or no needs support. The authors found that when participants who received those messages (and had higher positive expectations) reported less positive evaluation of the session than participants who received no message. In fact, those individuals who were given needs support AND the expectation message, still reported the session in less positive terms! Language of these messages were also investigated, where participants who received language that were controlling (think commando-esque language), reported higher levels of anger and freedom threat!
What does all this mean and how can I apply this?
This above study is quite important for people within the health and fitness industry. What this study tells us is just how strong overpromising, and not delivering on, the positive experiences people may expect in an advertised exercise session. Not delivering on these expectations even with the assistance of needs support, still provides a negative perception of the exercise session. In addition, being overly forceful in these messages, even if the exercise session is supported by strong scientific evidence, may have a negative impact in client's further participation of that exercise. What we should do, then, is provide a more realistic expectations of the exercise session, on par with how engaging and enjoyable it actually is. After all, if we provide a higher expectation, we need to be able to back this up, otherwise this would have a greater negative effect and may have clients disengaging in droves! When providing some of these messages, it is also advisable to use language to acknowledge client's choice, provide rationale, and use empathy.