A Social Identity Approach to Understanding and Promoting Physical Activity



Stevens M, Rees T, Coffee P, Steffens NK, Haslam SA & Polman R (2017) A Social Identity Approach to Understanding and Promoting Physical Activity. Sports Medicine, 47 (10), pp. 1911-1918.

Against the backdrop of a global physical inactivity crisis, attempts to both understand and positively influence physical activity behaviours are characterized by a focus on individual-level factors (e.g., cognitions, attitudes, motivation). Drawn from an emerging body of work that has explored the applicability of social identity and self-categorization theories to domains of sport and health, we outline a new perspective from which to understand and address this pervasive problem. This social identity approach suggests that the groups to which people belong can be, and often are, incorporated into their sense of self and, through this, are powerful determinants of physical activity-related behaviour. We start by reviewing the current state of physical activity research and highlighting the potential for the social identity approach to help understand how social factors influence these behaviours. Next, we outline the theoretical underpinnings of the social identity approach, and provide three key examples that speak to the analytical and practical value of the social identity approach in physical activity settings. Specifically, we argue (1) that social identity can be harnessed to promote engagement in physical activity, (2) that social identity underpins exercise group behaviour, and (3) that social identity underpins effective leadership in exercise settings. We conclude by identifying prospects for a range of theory-informed research developments.

Sports Medicine: Volume 47, Issue 10

Publication date31/10/2017
Publication date online27/03/2017
Date accepted by journal15/03/2017