When we speak of the positive impact of technology on motivation, physical fitness is one of the topics that is, based on current social media trends, quite compelling and can be a good area for research and study. However, as anything that happens in the world wide web, the fitness motivation trend in various social media platforms may turn out to be just one of the internet fads today. Still, such trend is something that can be studied and analyzed as the use and power of social media is becoming more profound and significant in our daily lives.
In this paper, the influence of social media on exercise and physical fitness motivation will be explored. Does social media use and engagement helps motivate people to stay fit and active? Who are usually motivated and influenced by their own social media activities in terms of exercise and physical activity? How can we benefit from social facilitation when it comes to physical health and fitness through social media use?
What is Web 2.0? Web 2.0, also called Social Web, includes all social networking sites and various blogging platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Tumblr, and the likes. These are sites that can be accessed not just through the internet but also in mobile devices, which is part of the web 3.0 revolution or the mobile web. Social media, as the primary contribution of Web 2.0, has definitely changed not just how we relate and communicate with people. We use social media to create, share, or exchange information and ideas in a virtual community and network (Fleck & Johnson-Migalski, 2015). According to researchers, 73% of adults online use some type of social networking site (Duggan & Smith, 2014), 73% of teens and 72% of young adults online use social networking sites (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). When it comes to the type of social media users, Vinerean et al. (2013) identified four types of social media users: Expressers and Informers (those whose online activities are focused on getting information and staying current); Engagers (those whose online activities involve reading online discussions and posts, as well as sharing their own opinions and reviews to others online); Networkers and Socializers (social media users who are actively engaged in all social media platforms and in updating their profiles through posts, comments, and tags); and lastly, Watchers and Listeners (internet users whose online activity are limited to entertainment). Lastly, Vinerean et al. (2013) identified factors such as the importance of social media, credibility of resources, online security, privacy, among others, contribute to how engaged an internet user is when it comes to sharing, networking, and participating in any online activities. Said activities involve discussing with people within one’s online social network, joining and participating in online communities, as well as responding to profile targeted ads.
Exercise Culture and the Media
The relationship between exercise and media is not new in the North American popular culture. According to Philips (2005), fitness and exercise has become an obsession in the American culture and is influenced not just by the health agencies but most importantly the media. Various studies explored the individual motivations involved in exercising such as beliefs and attitudes (e.g. Jayanti and Burns, 1998; Williams et al.,1996), normative health models (e.g. Moorman and Matulich, 1993), social comparison theory (e.g. Frederick, Havitz & Shaw, 1994; Gulas & McKeage, 2000), effects of media on views of health (Andsarger & Power, 1999) and fitness (Duncan & Messner, 1998), as well as exercise differences based on age, gender and ethnicity (e.g. Duke, 2000; Howze, Smith & DiGilio, 1989; Jackson & Henderson, 1995) (Philips, 2005). When explaining the individual differences in exercise behaviors and attitudes, Philips (2005) used Arthur Frank’s (1991) typology of “body use in action” (see Figure 1). Philips (2005) applied Frank’s (1991) typology in understanding how individuals consume exercise and fitness information based on advertising and media. Frank’s (1991) typology was used by Philips (2005) as a framework in classifying individuals into exercise identity types and in exploring the relationship between advertising and the meanings of exercise products. It is no different when it comes to the use of social media in today’s physical fitness trends. Instead of focusing on print articles, posters, banners, and television advertisings, the web revolution is bringing us internet- and mobile technology-based media platforms for marketing such as social media.
The first type of body is the disciplined body — lacking or never good enough. Such feeling of inferiority is approached by exercisers through predictability (exercise regimentations provide a sense of control and accomplishment), dissociation (a fit physical appearance is a product of an exerciser's discipline or that pain is separate from the self), and being monadic (concerned only with one’s self and acts in isolation despite being in the presence of other exercisers participating in similar activities). According to Frank (1991), exercisers under the disciplined body category uses exercise as a form of control and a way of achieving the bodily outcome or desired end through effort. Exercising is also used by said individuals to preserve the body as encouraged by various institutions. This is in response to people’s feelings of lack of internal control over one’s body due to disease, decay, and death. However, exercisers under the disciplined body type tend to take on moral overtones based on the ideal image that society presents. Those who are thin and fit are considered healthy, in control, desirable, and esteemed, therefore morally superior (Stein, 1982). Individuals who are overweight are characterized as the opposite, morally inferior (Verba & Camden, 1987).
The media plays a huge role in providing us the ideal image of what is healthy and fit. In the world of social media, many trends have emerged as to what defines healthy, fit, and a desirable body. These idealized body images are portrayed as being in control of one’s own body and something that can bring personal satisfaction over one’s health and body. For so many years, people are using idealized body images based off of advertisements that usually feature men and women of above average attractiveness. This is evident in a lot of advertisements showcasing products for exercising and physical fitness suggesting that if we work hard enough we will achieve the ideal healthy human body. In most cases, not everyone will be able to achieve the ideal body image shown in mainstream media due to several factors such as body type, genetics, and other individual factors that make us all physically unique from each other. This can cause anxiety and low self-esteem, maintaining the perpetual sense of lack in disciplined exercisers.
The second body type is the mirroring body — continuously producing desires to fulfill and hide its sense of lack through consumption. According to Frank (1991), “Between the disciplined and the mirroring body, the flip-point was when the discipline gave way to care, and regimentation to consumption”. In this case, there is no dissociation between the exerciser’s physical appearance and one’s self and mirroring exercisers are most concerned with self-presentation through their appearance. Instead of focusing on the health benefits and aspect of exercising, mirroring exercisers place more importance on using exercise for enhancing physical appearance. Researchers support this to be true among exercisers who consider attractiveness being associated with power, social recognition, acceptance, desirability, and happiness (Thompson & Hirschman, 1995; Roberts & Olson, 1989; Aycock, 1992; Gillett & White, 1992; Joseph, 1982; Bosanko, 1994) (Philips, 2000). These benefits assumed by mirroring exercisers are further driven by advertisements selling clothing, equipment, shoes, and accessories for exercising and physical fitness. Purchase of said items give mirroring exercisers their idealized body image as fit and healthy.
The third body type is the dominating body — experiences the same sense of lack as the disciplined body but sense of control is dependent on others. A dominating exerciser will develop his body and appearance to portray authority, power, and strength. This type of exerciser is common among males and may also include some females. For example, culturally, muscular men are usually hired as bouncers at bars and clubs because they provide physical symbols of power (Gillett & White, 1992).
Lastly, communicative body, as Frank (1991) described, is the ideal type of exerciser. Communicative exercisers work out to express and understand themselves better through their bodies. These type of exercisers participate in physical activities to communicate feelings and self-expression rather than change one’s appearance. Runners, for example, run to be one with nature, to reduce stress, or to be a part of a running club. People who practice yoga do so because of its physical and spiritual benefits. Advertisers may or may not express the communicative exerciser’s values, however, the most recent trends in fitness and exercise tend to support both the communicative values and mirroring values of exercisers. That, a lot of physical fitness activities are now marketed as fun and good for one’s well-being, along with consuming products associated with exercising and fitness.
Media has played a huge role in influencing our attitudes and behaviors toward exercising and physical fitness. Its effects can be beneficial or disadvantageous contingent on how advertisers portray fitness and a healthy human body. Did the emergence of social media made our attitudes and behaviors toward physical fitness and exercising better or worse? Did the social media revolution created more disciplined, mirroring, dominating or communicative exercisers? Social media presents different physical fitness trends. Is this a good or bad thing? This is something that can be surveyed and researched. Social media and its users who actively participate in the physical fitness trend represents several types of exercisers, which can be a good thing because we are not only exposed to one or two types of exercisers or presented with a few physical fitness values (see Figure 2). How do we use social media as a way of motivating ourselves and others to exercise and participate in any form of physical activity?
Social facilitation is a major topic in the field of social and performance psychology. Social facilitation happens when the “mere presence of other people either as an audience or as co-actors can influence our performance on many tasks (Baron, Branscombe & Byrne, p. 395)”. Various theories support social facilitation such as the drive theory, evaluation-apprehension, and distraction-conflict perspective. Drive theory suggests that, based on the dominant response of a person, the presence of others cause arousal that can either increase or decrease that person’s performance. Individuals who are in the early stages of learning and performing a task are more likely to experience impairment in performance, an incorrect response. Conversely, a correct response is more dominant if the task requires no learning or is familiar to the person, therefore increasing performance. In explaining the relationship between arousal level and performance as influenced by social facilitation, Kushnir (1981) used the terms “effort, “attention”, and “capacity”. The amount of effort exerted to the task at hand can increase performance due to intentionality, or directly investing effort to the task and compensates for the distracting effects of involuntary attention or the presence of others. Intentionality also causes individuals to perform well when in the presence of an audience. The amount of effort invested in task performance may vary based on the “alone” and “audience” conditions because they both provide different levels of arousal. Capacity, on the other hand, is the arousal threshold of a performer that makes the difference in terms of the increase or decrease in performance while in the presence of others. The Yerkes-Dodson law (see Figure 3) explains well how a specific amount or level of arousal can influence our behavior and responses and therefore affect our performance. Low levels of arousal causes under stimulation and not conducive to maximum performance, while high levels of arousal causes overstimulation and prevents us from concentrating on the task at hand.
Evaluation-apprehension, on the other hand, suggests that the presence of others mediate evaluation and can cause anxiety, therefore may disrupt performance. According to Cottrell (1972), people learn through experience to anticipate subsequent positive or negative outcomes whenever others are present, regardless if others or the audience are not openly being critical or evaluative. Through anticipation, arousal level increases and for it to affect the performer significantly, the audience must be composed of higher status individuals and generally perceived as capable of evaluation. Lastly, researchers suggest that the presence of others, either as an audience or co-actor, can be distracting and can cause cognitive overload (Baron, 1986). This phenomenon is explained through the distraction-conflict theory, suggesting that performers experience cognitive overload when their attention has to be divided between the audience and the task at hand. Increased arousal may cause the performer to focus on the audience and/or narrow one’s attentional focus.
Competitiveness can also be considered a factor involved in using social media as a platform for physical fitness motivation. According to Martens (1975), competitiveness originates in the intrinsic motivation to be competent but can also be extrinsically motivated. Studies view competitiveness as both a personality variable or a temporary psychological state contingent on the demands of certain situations. In the study conducted by Sambolec et al. (2007), two performance contexts were examined when it comes to competitiveness: conjunctive group task and co-active task. Highly competitive individuals who are primed (priming provides indirect competitive cues through signs and slogans, see Figure 4) during conjunctive task may be motivated to match or exceed the performance of more capable members to maximize team performance rather than outperform team members. During co-active tasks (that model certain aspects of individual competitive sports), highly competitive individuals who are primed will be motivated to exceed the performance of another performer by monitoring and comparing one’s performance to the other. Sambolec et al. (2007) found that priming did seem to make competitive thoughts more accessible, however, it only significantly increased effort in the co-active situations. Social comparison can influence people to work harder but there are also other processes to be considered that are dependent on other variables like personality.
When it comes to improving performance, two variables can be attributed to personality, which in turn affects a person’s level of competitiveness: ego orientation and mastery orientation. Competitive individuals who are ego-oriented are motivated to work harder in exceeding their performance to demonstrate their high ability to others (Elliot & Dweck, 1988). However, they may become demotivated if they find out that their ability is inferior to others. Competitive individuals who are mastery-oriented are motivated to exert more effort in their performance to enhance their skills (Elliot & Dweck, 1988).
Two other variables that may contribute to the attitudes and behaviors of exercisers who use social media for sharing their physical activities are objective self-awareness and self-presentation. Wiklund and Duval (1971) suggest that during objective self-awareness, the presence of observers can cause a person to direct attention towards the self, to perceive himself or herself as an object. While in the presence of others, an individual will attempt to ‘do his best’ and take more caution to perform to a higher standard. Self-presentation, on the other hand, is when individuals are motivated by fear of embarrassment (Bond, 1982) and would do their best to maintain a positive image. Individuals driven by self-presentation may experience a reduction in self-esteem after a faulty performance or if they assume that they appear inept. However, when esteem is maintained, performance is facilitated.
Audience affects performance differently contingent on the type of task being performed and how much the presence of others cause distraction. How about virtual audience through social media and internet? Do exercisers experience the same level of arousal and have the same attitudes and behaviors toward other social media users, both in evaluative and non-evaluative conditions?
Individuals who share their physical fitness journeys and/or exercise regimentations and results on social media may be driven or discouraged by the amount of people that interacts and engages with them, as well as the amount and type of feedback provided by other users. Going back to Frank’s (1991) typology, different bodies or different exercising values among social media users can predict the effect of exposing one’s appearance, body, and physical fitness activities on social media that would be seen and judged by other social media users, whether these users are capable of evaluation or not. Again, when we speak of capable evaluators, these are social media users who are experienced or experts in the type of exercise regimentation or physical fitness activity that is being evaluated. So, if a novice weightlifter believes that he is being evaluated by expert and more experienced weightlifters on social media, he will work harder on improving his form and making sure he is lifting correctly (drive theory; evaluation-apprehension; objective self-awareness). On the other hand, if a novice runner who desires to be a part of an online long-distance running community believes that he is being evaluated by expert and experienced long-distance runners, his attention and goals may be focused on running distances too quickly (distraction-conflict; self-presentation). How being observed and evaluated is approached by an exerciser who is actively engaged on social media will determine how such exposure will affect his performance and motivation, as well as his susceptibility to injury.
Feedback is probably one of the primary reasons why exercisers use social media to share their physical fitness activities and experiences. Exercisers do not only get information and advice from other exercisers, they also get support from various communities of exercisers. For example, if you love to run or just getting started with running, you will find thousands and millions of posts from other users by using the tags #running, #runners, or #run when searching through social media platforms like Instagram (see Figure 5). You may receive or can ask feedback from other exercisers with regard to your own exercise routines and regimentations.
Social media, for all intents and purposes, is a means of connecting and communicating with people around the world. It’s not only easy and convenient, it connects us to everyone from every corner of the globe. One of the important psychological and social factors involved in human performance and motivation is social support. Social support involves psychosocial processes that are intended to provide positive effect on a person’s emotions, behaviors, and cognitions. A network of social support may include significant individuals in a person's life such as parents, family, friends, coachers, and mentors. The benefits of social support to people in sport and performance is becoming an appealing research topic and even recommended to be a useful resource for athletes and performers (Richman, Hardy, Rosenfeld, & Callanan, 1989; Sarason, Sarason, and Pierce, 1990; Gould, Grenleaf, Chung, & Guinan, 2002). Social support has been linked with group cohesion (Westre & Weiss, 1991), coping with competitive stress (Crocker, 1992), slumps in performance (Madden, Kirkby, & McDonald, 1989), burn out (Gould, Tuffey, Udry, & Loehr, 1996), vulnerability to injury (Smith, Smoll, & Ptacek, 1990), the etiology of and recovery from injury (e.g. Hardy, Richman, & Rosenfeld, 1991; Udry, 1996), leadership styles (Chelladurai, 1993), and performance (Rees, Ingledew, & Hardy, 1999) (Rees & Hardy, 2000). A study conducted by Rees and Hardy (2000) found that social support is multidimensional or different types of support can help athletes deal with different problems and stressors as well as similar types of support can be used for different problems. They also suggest for significant others as providers of support to have the knowledge and skill in understanding the needs of athletes and performers instead of relying solely on intuition (Reese & Hardy, 2000). Lehman, Ellard and Wortman (1986) noted that poor providers of support try, among other things, to minimize the importance of an event, avoid open communication, criticize attempts at coping, encourage quicker coping, and give inappropriate advice. This tells us that social support is one of the most important resources for athletes and performers. A statement from Rees (2007) sums up the importance of social support to performance,
“Ongoing support of friends and family is one of the most important factors influencing sports performance. While training, tactics and luck all play a part, the encouraging words or kind gestures of a partner or friend can make the difference between a footballer scoring that winning goal or a sprinter achieving a record time. The encouragement and support of friends and family clearly plays a massive part in building confidence, which is so important when the pressure is on.”
Based on the idea of social support and its importance when it comes to motivation and performance, social media platforms can provide significant social connections to exercisers. Exercisers may develop new friendships with people of common interests and goals as well as meet mentors who are highly recognized or high performers of any particular physical fitness activity, globally. Social support may be one of the positive influences to and reasons for people who use social media for exercise and physical fitness motivation. Furthermore, social media users may engage in social media activities for exercise and physical fitness motivation according to their user type, expressers and informers; engagers; networkers and socializers. These three types of users, except the watchers and observers, may benefit from using social media as a platform for sharing their physical fitness journeys and exercise regimentations. One common caveat when using social media for feedback, social support and influence is that criticisms are made public or available to the public in the world wide web and can cause greater embarrassment to the individual receiving the criticism. This can disrupt self-esteem, self-efficacy, motivation, and performance on an individual. However, there seem to be more exercisers who use social media that advocate for other social media users who are also exercisers than ‘cyber bullies’ or internet ‘trolls’.
If one will spend some time browsing through various social media platforms where physical fitness and exercise trends are propagating, one will be able to identify the different exercisers based on Frank’s typology. At the least, based on the self-presentation by the users. Contingent to the posts of a user, other users are welcomed to look into a person’s life and values. Social media is like a window to people’s lives. Others can look into sufficient amount of information about our activities to understand what we value in life based on where we exert our efforts to, in this case, physical fitness and/or exercising.
The topic discussed in this paper is something I consider worth studying and researching due to the fact that since the emergence of social media and the web revolution, they became a crucial part of most people’s lives, whether professional or personal or both. Studies exploring the effects of media and advertising on physical fitness and exercising as part of the American culture has been conducted numerous times in the past. At present, social media is exceeding the influence that mainstream media and advertising had on people. With the use of social media for communication and as part of the influence of globalization, the physical fitness trend is no longer exclusive to just the western culture but in other societies as well. It is worth recognizing how people all over the world are motivated to participate in exercise regimentations and physical fitness activities. Is there a universal variable when it comes to using social media as a channel and source for physical fitness and exercising motivation? Do most exercisers find the social support and influence they need through social media from its users? Any form of technology can have a positive or negative impact on people. Again, this is dependent on how we use social media and what we use them for. Looking back on the different types of exercisers on Frank’s (1991) typology, we may be able to determine what type of exercisers would have more success in experiencing motivation and improvement in their physical fitness activities and exercise regimentations by actively engaging with other exercisers through social media.
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