Does Exercise Status Influence the Impressions Formed by College Students?

Article excerpt

This study examined the influence written descriptions of exercisers and nonexercisers had on the impressions formed by college students. Impressions of 176 university students were assessed using the questionnaire reported by Martin, Sinden, and Fleming (2000). MANOVA results revealed a significant main effect for exercise status on both the physical and personality ratings (p < .001). Exercisers were rated more favorably on 19 of the 20 dimensions assessed. Significant main effects for gender were also found on the personality dimensions with females rated more positively on 8 of 12 dimensions (p < .05). Results suggest that exercise identity may have implications regarding the impression management of college students and further research is warranted.


Whether acknowledged or not, individuals are constantly being judged by their personality traits, attitudes, motives, abilities, and attributes. These judgments, in turn, often directly influence how the individual is treated so people sometimes try to create specific impressions (Leary, 1992). This process by which people attempt to control the impressions others form of them is referred to as impression management (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). Impression management is the way in which people monitor and control how they are perceived by others and is a necessary and natural component of interpersonal behavior (Leary, 1992).

According to Leafy and Kowalski (1990), impression management consists of two key components, impression motivation and impression construction. In some situations we consciously monitor people's reactions and are highly motivated to create and control a particular impression (i.e., meeting prospective in-laws). However, most monitoring occurs on a nonconscious level where we simply scan the environment for feedback on how we are being perceived. In these instances, we are not attempting to create a specific impression and thus, are not motivated to control the impression.

The second component, impression construction, involves modifying one's behavior to affect others' impressions (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). Creating an impression consists of both determining the kind of impression to portray and then deciding how to make that impression. Once identified, a number of means such as physical appearance, verbal comments, nonverbal behavior and styles, material possessions, and social association can be used to create desired impressions. However, it should be noted that monitoring and controlling how one is perceived does not necessarily mean we are trying to deceive others (Leary, 1992). In fact, most information we project is pretty consistent with our own self-concept (Schlenker, 1980). Thus, in many instances impression management is actually an attempt to make sure that others have an accurate perception.

Because of the implications exercise behavior may have on impression management, researchers in the area of sport and exercise psychology have recently begun to address this topic. For example, Leary (1992) identified the effects of impression management on four aspects of exercise and sport behavior in an attempt to highlight the important role that these processes may play. Conroy, Motl, and Hall (2000) have started developing the Self-Presentation in Exercise Questionnaire (SPEQ) in an attempt to study impression motivation and impression construction in the social environment of exercise. DeLima, Cremades, and Butcher (2002) examined possible gender differences in competitive impression management concerns among college athletes. However, research directly examining the influence of exercise status on impression management is rather limited.

Martin and Leary (as cited in Martin, Sinden, & Fleming, 2000) had participants rate a young woman on 16 different personality and physical-appearance attributes based on a short description of her. In the descriptions, she was either portrayed as an exerciser, nonexerciser, or no mention was made of her exercise habits. …


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