Physical Self and Physical Activity Relationships in College Women: Does Social Physique Anxiety Moderate Effects?

Article excerpt

This research assessed whether social physique anxiety moderated the relationship between physical self-perceptions and the level of physical activity involvement in young women. Participants were 354 female students who completed the Social Physique Anxiety Scale (SPAS), Physical Self-Perception Profile, Self-Administered 7-Day Physical Activity Recall (PAR), and Leisure Time Exercise Questionnaire (LTEQ). Both physical activity measures were significantly related to the SPAS and all physical self-perceptions. Multiple regressions showed that only self-perceptions of conditioning significantly predicted PAR ([R.sup.2] = .24) and LTEQ ([R.sup.2] = .30). SPA did not add any unique variance in predicting activity, and no moderator effects were found for either PAR or LTEQ. Findings suggest that perception of physical conditioning is the dominant predictor of physical activity levels in young women, and social physique anxiety does not moderate this relationship.

Key words: body anxiety, self-esteem, gender

Self-presentational concerns may be a major source of motivation for participating in physical activity (Biddle, 1997; Crawford & Eklund, 1994; Eklund & Crawford, 1994; Hart, Leary, & Rejeski, 1989; Leary, 1992). Women often report they are motivated to be physically active for self-presentational reasons, including weight management, body tone, and general physical appearance (Bane & McAuley, 1998; Cash, 1990; Crawford & Eklund, 1994; Frederick & Ryan, 1993; Frederick & Shaw, 1995). This motivation is likely due to the sociocultural pressures on women to maintain the ideal thin and physically fit body (Brownell, 1991; Sparkes, 1997; Wilfley & Rodin, 1995) and the high social acceptability of using physical activity as a means to deal with weight concerns (Davis, 1990). Alternatively, self-presentational concerns about one's physique may also serve to deter women from engaging in physical activity (Hart et al., 1989; Leary, 1992). Physical activity and sport domains are often perceived as self-presentationall y threatening, because numerous physical activities and sports occur in public settings where physique is emphasized and can be evaluated (Eklund & Crawford, 1994; Hart et al., 1989; McAuley & Burman, 1993).

Self-presentation refers to how people attempt to monitor and control the impressions other people form of them (Leary, 1992; Schlenker & Leary, 1982). It is an essential aspect of social interaction, because the impressions people convey influence how they are perceived, evaluated, and treated by others (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). As a consequence of the importance of self-presentation as a mode for social influence, relatively few aspects of human behavior are unaffected by self-presentational motives (Leary, 1995).

When people doubt their abilities for achieving their self-presentational goals they are likely to experience social anxiety (Leary & Kowalski, 1995), which is defined as "anxiety resulting from the prospect or presence of personal evaluation in real or imagined situations" (Schlenker & Leary, 1982, p. 642). Although one may interpret social anxiety as a uniformly negative phenomenon, it is important to understand that when viewed from a self-presentational perspective, social anxiety can have both positive and negative aspects (Leary, 1995). A positive aspect of social anxiety is that it helps to keep people's behavior within socially desirable limits. For example, those who are never concerned with others' perceptions or about making undesired impressions are more likely to behave inappropriately and be perceived as selfish, egocentric, unlikeable, and so on, and, thus, fare quite poorly in life (Leary, 1995; Leary & Kowaiski, 1995). On the other hand, social anxiety can take on negative aspects if people' s self-presentational concerns become excessive. Those who are overly concerned with the impressions they convey may experience personal distress (e. …