Affective mental contrasting to enhance physical activity: A randomized controlled trial

Health Psychol. 2018 Jan;37(1):51-60. doi: 10.1037/hea0000551. Epub 2017 Oct 5.


Objective: Transition to university is a vulnerable period for discontinuing regular physical activity that can have implications for students' physical and psychological health. Accordingly, it is imperative to find and implement cost and time-effective interventions to mitigate the consequences of this transition. Intervention research has shown mental contrasting is an effective means of promoting various health-enhancing behaviors including physical activity. However, the efficacy of this intervention approach may be bolstered by targeting affective judgments (e.g., enjoyable-unenjoyable), which exert greater influence on physical activity behaviors compared to health-related instrumental judgments (e.g., useful-useless). The purpose of this study was to compare the relative efficacy of a mental contrasting intervention that targeted affective judgments associated with physical activity, in relation to a mental contrasting intervention that targeted instrumental judgments, and a "standard" mental contrasting intervention (with no modifications).

Method: Using a 3-arm parallel randomized controlled trial design ( Number NCT02615821), 110 insufficiently active, female, university students were randomly assigned to an affective, instrumental, or standard mental contrasting intervention following simple randomization procedures. Assessments were conducted at baseline and 4 weeks postintervention.

Results: Participants in the affective mental contrasting condition displayed higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than those in the instrumental or standard comparison conditions, F(2, 90) = 3.14, p < .05, ηp2 = 0.065.

Conclusion: Overall, affective mental contrasting has the potential to represent a low-cost and time-efficient intervention that may help insufficiently active, female students increase activity or attenuate declining levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity that occurs during university. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health / trends*
  • Young Adult

Associated data


Grants and funding