The Relationship between Attitude Towards Exercise and Intention to Exercise, and Social Norm and Intention to Exercise

The benefits to an individuals psychological and physiological well being are well documented and publicised (Hausenblas, Carron & Mack, 1997). However, at present only 20% of Americans exercise to a level, at which the risk of some chronic diseases, and premature death may be reduced (Powell, Spain, Christenson, & Mollenkamp, 1986, cited in Dzewaltowski, Noble, & Shaw, 1990). Previous research has indicated that between 50-60% of people who do start exercise programs will drop out within the first year (Dzewaltowski et al, 1990; Kerner & Grossman, 1998; & Hausenblas et al, 1997). This high percentage of the population failing to adhere to exercise programs, and physical activity, has contributed to the increase in obesity, and other illnesses; which cost the state billions of pounds each year in treatment. Kerner & Grossman state that once an individual ha been exercising for two or three years, the drop out rate is only 20%, reducing to only 10% after four years of regular exercise.

A number of researchers have investigated why individuals do, or do not adhere to exercise and physical activity programs (Yordy & Lent, 1993; Kerner & Grossman, 1998; Godin & Shepard, 1986; Dzewaltowski, 1989; Riddle 1980; Smith & Biddle, 1999; Hagger, Chatzisarantis & Biddle, 2002; & Dzewaltowski et al, 1990). These investigations have found many reasons for non-adherence, to physical activity and exercise programs, and these reasons have been grouped into four categories: Motivation, attitude towards physical activity/exercise, perception of behavioural control and support by significant others (Yordy & Lent, 1993).

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Two theoretical frameworks, the theory of reasoned action (TRA) and the theory of reasoned behaviour (TRB), are examples of frameworks devised in-order to predict individuals physical activity and exercise participation (Dzewaltowski et al, 1990). The TRA predicts that behaviour is directly caused by intention; which in turn, is predicted by social norm, the individuals perception of social pressure to perform that behaviour, and by attitude, the cognitive evaluation of the consequences of performing the behaviour and perceptions of whether the consequences are positive or negative. Evolution of the TRA led to Ajzen (1985) adding the concept of perceived behavioural control, to form the TPB (Hausenblas et al, 1997). The element of perceived behavioural control takes into account individual’s perceptions of difficulties or ease associated with performing the desired behaviour (Smith ; Biddle, 1991).

Hausenblas et al found that subjective norm has a moderate effect on intention to exercise, that attitude has a large effect, and that as a predictor of intention attitude was over two times more useful than subjective norm (1997). These findings are backed up by Hagger et al who found a large/ medium effect size for attitude-intention relationship, and a small effect size for subjective norm-intention relationship (2002). Hagger et al state that subjective norm has only a small contribution to intention, and that intention is primarily a function of attitudes (2002). These findings are further supported by Godin (1993), Wankell, Mummery, Stephens ; Craig (1994), Yordy ; Lent (1993), Kimiecik (1992) ; Blue (1995, cited in Hagger et al, 2002). Several researchers have suggested that social norm adds no significant contribution to, attitude towards exercise’s, prediction of intention (Dzewaltowski et al, 1990; & Kiniecik, 1992). Kerner & Grossman (1998) found positive correlations, between intention to exercise and attitude (r = 0.38, p = 0.001), and intention to exercise and subjective norm (r = 0.35, p<0.01).

Ho: There will be no relationship between attitude towards exercise and intention to exercise.

Ha: There will be a positive relationship between attitude towards exercise and intention to exercise.

Ho: There will be no relationship between attitude social norm and intention to exercise.

Ha: There will be a positive relationship between attitude social norm and intention to exercise.



The participants in this study comprised of 18 subjects, (males = 10, females = 8), who had an exercise history of completing at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on three or more occasions a week. N = 18, x age =24.6 years. The subjects were informed that information given would be analysed, but would remain confidential.

Measures & Procedures

Attitude towards exercise, intention and social norm were measured in a gym environment, using a questionnaire based on Riddle, (1980) & Dzewaltowski et al, (1990). The participants were asked to indicate how they felt about each statement, on a scale of 1 to 7. 7 accounted for likely, agree, good, wise, beneficial, & desirable, according to the question, with 1 accounting for unlikely, disagree, bad, foolish, & harmful, respectively.

Data Analysis

Intention was calculated by adding the scores of items 1,2,3,4, and then dividing by the number of items (4 items). Attitude was calculated by adding the scores of items 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, and then dividing by the number of items (4 items). The social norm was calculated using the answer for item 6. Pearson correlations were then performed between attitude towards exercise and intention to exercise, and social norm and intention to exercise, using mini-tab.


Analysis of the relationship between attitude and intention showed a high positive correlation of r = 0.82, indicating a strong relationship between the two variables. Further manipulation of the data showed that r2 = 0.67, indicating that 67% of intention to exercise, in the TRA, was contributed by attitude to exercise. This is not necessarily true for the TPB due to the effect of perceived behavioural control not being taken into account. The alternate (Ha) hypothesis may be accepted, and the null (Ho) rejected, due to P= 0.00. This indicates that there is a >99% probability that the difference was due to systematic occurrences as opposed to error. The high correlation supports previous findings, that attitude has a large effect on intention to exercise (Hausenblas et al, 1997; Hagger et al, 2002; Godin, 1993; Wankell, 1994; Yordy & Lent, 1993; Kimiecik, 1992; & Blue, 1995, cited in Hagger et al, 2002). The results, however, show a much greater relationship than found by Kerner & Grossman (1998)

The correlation between social norm and intention showed a medium positive correlation of r = 0.47. This indicates that there is a good relationship between social norm and intention. The null hypothesis may be rejected, and the alternate accepted due to P=0.05, as this shows that there is a 95% probability that the difference as due to systematic occurrences as opposed to error. r2 = 0.22 showing that approximately 22% of the TRA’s intention to exercise was contributed by social norms, the same limitation apply to the TPB as those mentioned for the TRA. This supports Hagger at al’s findings that social norm has a small effect on intention, and that within the TRA intention is primarily a function of attitudes. It also supports the findings of Wankell (1994), Godin (1993), Yordy & Lent (1993), & Blue (1995, cited in Hagger et al, 2002) The results disputes Dzewaltowski et al (1990) and Kimiecik’s (1992) findings that social norm has no significant contribution to predictions of intention. The data shows a greater relationship, between social norms and intention, than that found by Kerner ; Grossman (1988). These findings do support Hausenblas et al’s findings that attitude is twice as useful, as a predictor of intention, than social norm.

The contribution, of attitude to intention, in the TPB was considerably higher, than the contributions form social norm. The actual contributions cannot be discussed due to perceived behavioural control not being researched.

Future research needs to establish a clear definition of social norm and an effective way of evaluating it, as the way in which social norm was calculated was too vague. The question to evaluate social norm was ‘Most people important to me think I should exercise regularly in the next two weeks’. This allows the participant to be subjective as to whom is important to them, some may consider only a spouse or parent, others may include their doctor, personal trainer, work colleagues etc. This has limited this research, as the contribution, to intention, by social norm may be significantly different. Another factor, which should be considered, is the self – involvement of participant, social norm may effect intention differently, in those people who view sport as a part of their ‘self’.