Studying the Psychological Impact of Exercise Deprivation: Are Experimental Studies Hopeless?
Szabo, Attila, Journal of Sport Behavior
Understanding the physical and psychological consequences of deprivation from regular exercise, in committed exercisers, is an important issue because today exercise is a not only a personal but also a social striving. Researchers who venture in this field of study may become quickly discouraged when they realize how limited is the literature in this area of research. Citation indexes and well compiled computerized data bases are virtually void of studies on the effects of exercise deprivation. What may be the reason for the shortage of work in this field? The answer is simple: People exercise for some sort of benefit(s). No matter what that benefit may be, from a personal perspective it is most often greater than the benefit derived from participation in an exercise-deprivation study. Therefore, highly devoted exercisers are unlikely to enroll in deprivation studies even if there were some alluring incentives involved (Baekeland, 1970).
To date, there are less than ten experimental studies that examined the psychological impact of exercise deprivation and only a little more than ten opportunistic or survey-type studies (Szabo, 1995). But even more disappointing is the fact that most of these studies looked to the problem of exercise deprivation indirectly. More precisely, they examined the concept in relation to "exercise addiction" based on the presumption that negative emotions during episodes of exercise deprivation are reflections of addiction to exercise (e.g., Anshel, 1991). Accordingly, the primary objective in these studies was not the understanding of how or what people feel during intervals of exercise deprivation, but rather whether they are or are not addicted to their exercise (e.g., Anshel, 1991; Gauvin, 1990; Sachs & Pargman, 1979). Therefore, the examination of the effects of exercise deprivation was most often secondary to the analysis of issues related to exercise addiction. The possibility of isolating exercise deprivation from the concept of addiction was stressed only recently (Szabo, 1995; Wingate, 1993). This isolation is necessary in the conceptual foundation of experimental inquiries aimed to the understanding of how regular (not addicted) exercisers feel when they are deprived of their exercise. Once this foundation is established, the realization of experimental studies may present major difficulties.
The Subject-Recruitment Dilemma
As noted above, few people volunteer for exercise deprivation studies. Those who are willing to take part in these studies may be different in some way from those who do not take part in similar investigations for any incentive (Baekeland, 1970). How different? In fact volunteers for exercise deprivation inquiries may represent a totally different population than the population from which they are thought to be. A sturdy example for this assertion stems from a recent experience. Recruitment leaflets calling for participation in an exercise deprivation study were distributed to more than 5000 participants in a large marathon (Gauvin & Szabo, 1996). Only 24 people ([less than]0.5%!) showed interest in participation by replying to the call. In terms of probability, as based on this observation, it may be estimated that less than five marathon runners in a thousand may be interested in volunteering for exercise deprivation studies. But who are those five people? How are they different from the others? Do they possess some unique personality characteristics? Or it is their relationship with their exercise that is unique? Regrettably no answers are available to these questions at this time. One can speculate and hypothesize, but only the empirical testing of these hypotheses will shed light on the questioned differences. While it may be argued that marathoners do not represent the general exercising population and that the above figure may be different in subjects committed to other forms of exercise, the key point that merits attention is …
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Publication information: Article title: Studying the Psychological Impact of Exercise Deprivation: Are Experimental Studies Hopeless?. Contributors: Szabo, Attila - Author. Journal title: Journal of Sport Behavior. Volume: 21. Issue: 2 Publication date: June 1998. Page number: 139+. © 1999 University of South Alabama. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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