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Theory-Based Interventions Combining Mental Simulation and Planning Techniques to Improve Physical Activity: Null Results from Two Randomized Controlled Trials


Interventions to assist individuals in initiating and maintaining regular participation in physical activity are not always effective. Psychological and behavioral theories advocate the importance of both motivation and volition in interventions to change health behavior. Interventions adopting self-regulation strategies that foster motivational and volitional components may, therefore, have utility in promoting regular physical activity participation. We tested the efficacy of an intervention adopting motivational (mental simulation) and volitional (implementation intentions) components to promote a regular physical activity in two studies. Study 1 adopted a cluster randomized design in which participants (n = 92) were allocated to one of three conditions: mental simulation plus implementation intention, implementation intention only, or control. Study 2 adopted a 2 (mental simulation vs. no mental simulation) × 2 (implementation intention vs. no implementation intention) randomized controlled design in which fitness center attendees (n = 184) were randomly allocated one of four conditions: mental simulation only, implementation intention only, combined, or control. Physical activity behavior was measured by self-report (Study 1) or fitness center attendance (Study 2) at 4- (Studies 1 and 2) and 19- (Study 2 only) week follow-up periods. Findings revealed no statistically significant main or interactive effects of the mental simulation and implementation intention conditions on physical activity outcomes in either study. Findings are in contrast to previous research which has found pervasive effects for both intervention strategies. Findings are discussed in light of study limitations including the relatively small sample sizes, particularly for Study 1, deviations in the operationalization of the intervention components from previous research and the lack of a prompt for a goal intention. Future research should focus on ensuring uniformity in the format of the intervention components, test the effects of each component alone and in combination using standardized measures across multiple samples, and systematically explore effects of candidate moderators.

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