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Affective-Reflective Theory (ART)

We are investigating how affective experiences associated with exercise and physical activity register in memory to create an "affective valuation" that may act as either an urge for or a deterrent to future participation (an example of our conceptual approach can be found in Zenko and Ekkekakis, 2019). To this end, we have collaborated with Professor Ralf Brand (University of Potsdam, Germany) to develop the Affective-Reflective Theory (ART) of exercise and physical inactivity (watch this video). The ART predicts that reflective processes (e.g., knowledge and appreciation of the benefits of exercise, self-efficacy appraisals) may be positive (a vector propelling the individual to be active) but past affective experiences associated with exercise or physical activity may be negative (a vector restraining the individual to a sedentary state). In order to motivate exercise or physical activity participation, the reflective and the affective processes must be concordant; interventions designed to promote exercise or physical activity should address both. 

Affective-Reflective Theory of exercise and physical inactivity
The Affective-Reflective Theory (ART) of exercise and physical inactivity uses a "force" versus "counterforce" analogy based on Lewin's (1951) force-field analysis to illustrate that, even if reflective forces are propelling an individual to be active, activity will not occur as long as affective forces (i.e., unpleasant past experiences associated with exercise and physical activity) are acting in the opposite direction, restraining the individual to a state of inactivity.


Affective-Reflective Theory of exercise and physical inactivity
Multiple factors (e.g., high body mass, low cardiorespiratory fitness, lack of regular physical activity, problematic self-perceptions) may act to make the experience of exercise or physical activity unpleasant for the average (sedentary) adult in industrialized countries. Repeated experiences of displeasure create a negative affective valuation of the stimulus-concepts of "exercise" or "physical activity." A negative affective valuation may act as a deterrent to participation, especially when self-regulatory resources are low.


Brand and Ekkekakis

Interventions based on the Affective-Reflective Theory (ART) of exercise and physical inactivity would seek to radically change current norms of professional practice. Besides typical consultation sessions designed to target relevant cognitive appraisals (e.g., shift the balance between perceived benefits vs. barriers, increase self-efficacy, foster perceptions of autonomy, competence, and relatedness), ART-based interventions would also include evidence-based, systematic approaches to improve the affective experience of exercise or physical activity.

Information-based PLUS experience-based interventions
An exercise or physical activity-promotion intervention based on the Affective-Reflective Theory (ART) of exercise and physical inactivity would include both a component designed to address relevant cognitions (e.g., anticipated benefits vs. barriers, physical self-efficacy, perceived autonomy, competence, and relatedness) and a component designed to enhance the affective experience (i.e., prioritize pleasure and enjoyment). 


Recommended Readings on the Affective-Reflective Theory (ART)

  • Brand, R., & Ekkekakis, P. (2021). Exercise behavior change revisited: Affective-reflective theory. In Z. Zenko & L. Jones (Eds.), Essentials of exercise and sport psychology: An open access textbook (pp. 62-92). Society for Transparency, Openness, and Replication in Kinesiology. [DOI]
  • Ekkekakis, P., & Brand, R. (2021). Exercise motivation from a post-cognitivist perspective: Affective-Reflective Theory. In C. Englert & I. Taylor (Eds.), Motivation and self-regulation in sport and exercise (pp. 20-40). New York: Routledge. [DOI]
  • Ekkekakis, P., & Brand, R. (2019). Affective responses to and automatic affective valuations of physical activity: Fifty years of progress on the seminal question in exercise psychology. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 42, 130-137. [DOI]
  • Brand, R., & Ekkekakis, P. (2018). Affective-reflective theory of physical inactivity and exercise: Foundations and preliminary evidence. German Journal of Exercise and Sport Research, 48(1), 48-58. [DOI]

Recommended Background Theoretical Readings Leading to the Formulation of the ART

  • Ekkekakis, P. (2017). People have feelings! Exercise psychology in paradigmatic transition. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 84-88. [PDF]
  • Ekkekakis, P., Zenko, Z., & Werstein, K.M. (2018). Exercise in obesity from the perspective of hedonic theory: A call for sweeping change in professional practice norms. In S. Razon & M.L. Sachs (Eds.), Applied exercise psychology: The challenging journey from motivation to adherence (pp. 289-315). New York: Routledge. [PDF]
  • Ekkekakis, P. & Zenko, Z. (2016). Escape from cognitivism: Exercise as hedonic experience. In M. Raab, P. Wylleman, R. Seiler, A.M. Elbe, & A. Hatzigeorgiadis (Eds.), Sport and exercise psychology research from theory to practice (pp. 389-414). London: Academic Press. [PDF]
  • Ekkekakis, P., Vazou, S., Bixby, W.R., & Georgiadis, E. (2016). The mysterious case of the public health guideline that is (almost) entirely ignored: Call for a research agenda on the causes of the extreme avoidance of physical activity in obesity. Obesity Reviews, 17(4), 313-329. [PDF]
  • Ekkekakis, P. (2014). Hedonic theory. In R.C. Eklund & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.), Encyclopedia of sport and exercise psychology (pp. 335-337). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [PDF]
  • Ekkekakis, P., & Dafermos, M. (2012). Exercise is a many-splendored thing but for some it does not feel so splendid: Staging a resurgence of hedonistic ideas in the quest to understand exercise behavior. In E.O. Acevedo (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of exercise psychology (pp. 295-333). New York: Oxford University Press. [PDF]