Impact of a randomized possible selves experiment on new retirees’ physical activity and identity

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Perras, Mélanie G M
Strachan, Shaelyn M
Fortier, Michelle S
Dufault, Brenden
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Abstract Background Retirement is not always associated with greater engagement in physical activity. Previous interventions informed by possible selves, a type of future-oriented self-representation, proved useful to increase physical activity in young adults. We thus wanted to explore if a similar intervention would yield favorable outcomes in new retirees. We also examined whether possible selves could help increase identity relative to the physical activity context. Identity circumscribes the meanings which help individuals define who they are in a given role (i.e., what it means to be a physically active person). The strength of identification as a physically active person increases when individuals endorse these meanings more strongly. Possible selves may be tied to identity as they allow individuals to imagine themselves as physically active, which has been argued to incite changes to one’s sense of self. Hence, the overall aim of this study was to determine whether a possible selves intervention would increase physical activity behaviour and physical activity identity in a group of newly-retired individuals. Methods A total of 294 participants were randomized into one of three groups: (a) a repeated group with three possible selves image generation exposures, (b) a one-time group with one possible selves image generation exposure, or (c) a control group. Participants completed self-report measures at baseline and follow-up assessments were taken at weeks 4, 8, and 12 of the study. The measures for the outcomes of interest were the Godin Leisure Time Exercise Questionnaire and the modified Exercise Identity Scale. Results Repeated measures mixed-effects models analyses with maximum likelihood estimation revealed no significant differences between groups on physical activity behaviour (p = 0.34) or physical activity identity (p = 0.97) at follow-up time points. However, a time effect was found for physical activity (p <.01) and physical activity identity (p <.01), which increased across time (baseline-to-12-week follow-up) in all three groups. Such a time effect (inconsequential to group assignment) suggests that the observed increases in physical activity and identity cannot be attributed to an exposure to a possible selves intervention. Conclusions While the intervention failed to significantly increase physical activity identity and physical activity in newly retired individuals, we suggest future research directions for interventions targeting new retired individuals.
European Review of Aging and Physical Activity. 2016 Aug 27;13(1):7