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date: 18 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Contemporary theories of exercise behavior have been the products of the so-called cognitive revolution, which has shaped the dominant paradigm in psychology over the past several decades. Cognitive theories rely on the assumption that, in making behavioral decisions, humans collect relevant information and make their selections on the basis of a more-or-less rational analysis of this information. Although the dominance of cognitive theories in the field of exercise psychology is unquestionable, evidence suggests that they leave most of the variance in exercise behavior unaccounted and interventions based on them are of limited effectiveness in changing exercise behavior. This chapter reviews the history and evaluates the potential of an alternative approach, namely the hedonic theory of motivation. This idea, long neglected due the fascination of psychologists with information-processing models of the mind, attributes a substantial portion of the variance in decision-making to affective processes. Modern iterations of the idea emerging from the fields of neurology and behavioral economics reaffirm the ancient thesis that, in the long run, humans tend to repeat what makes them feel better and tend to avoid what makes them feel worse. Evidence from studies in the context of exercise suggests that affective responses to exercise vary greatly between individuals. Furthermore, despite a still-evolving methodological platform, preliminary studies show that affective responses to exercise predict subsequent exercise behavior. This line of research and theorizing offers a novel and intriguing perspective on the mechanisms underlying behavioral decision-making in the context of exercise. The literature reviewed in this chapter highlights the need for further research on the motivational implications of affective processes and lays the foundation for the development of a hedonic theory of exercise behavior.

Keywords: hedonic theory, affect heuristic, information processing, rationality assumption, epistemology

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