Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 488–497 | Cite as

Does intrinsic motivation strengthen physical activity habit? Modeling relationships between self-determination, past behaviour, and habit strength

  • Benjamin Gardner
  • Phillippa Lally


Habit formation is thought to aid maintenance of physical activity, but little research is available into determinants of habit strength aside from repeated performance. Previous work has shown that intrinsically motivated physical activity, underpinned by inherent satisfaction derived from activity, is more likely to be sustained. We explored whether this might reflect a tendency for self-determined activity to become more strongly habitual. A sample of 192 adults aged 18–30 completed measures of motivational regulation, intention, behaviour, and habit strength. Results showed that self-determined regulation interacted with past behaviour in predicting habit strength: prior action was more predictive of habit strength among more autonomously motivated participants. There was an unexpected direct effect of self-determined regulation on habit strength, independently of past behaviour. Findings offer possible directions for future habit formation work.


Physical activity Habit Self-determination Intrinsic motivation Extrinsic motivation 



This work received no external funding. We thank Danielle House for assistance with data collection.


  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211. doi: 10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-T CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armitage, C. J. (2005). Can the theory of planned behavior predict the maintenance of physical activity? Health Psychology, 24, 235–245. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.24.3.235 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bargh, J. A. (1994). The four horsemen of automaticity: Awareness, intention, efficiency, and control in social cognition. In R. S. Wyer & T. K. Srull (Eds.), Handbook of social cognition (pp. 1–40). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  5. Beck, F., Gillison, F., & Standage, M. (2010). A theoretical investigation of the development of physical activity habits in retirement. British Journal of Health Psychology, 15, 663–679. doi: 10.1348/135910709X479096 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Biddle, S., Soos, I., & Chatzisarantis, N. (1999). Predicting physical activity intentions using goal perspectives and self-determination theory approaches. European Psychologist, 4, 83–89.Google Scholar
  7. Chatzisarantis, N. L. D., Biddle, S. J. H., & Meek, G. A. (1997). A self-determination theory approach to the study of intentions and the intention-behaviour relationship in children’s physical activity. British Journal of Health Psychology, 2, 343–360. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8287.1997.tb00548.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chatzisarantis, N. L. D., & Hagger, M. S. (2007). Mindfulness and the intention- behavior relationship within the theory of planned behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 663–676. doi: 10.1177/0146167206297401 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chatzisarantis, N. L. D., Hagger, M. S., Biddle, S. J. H., & Karageorghis, C. (2002). The cognitive processes by which perceived locus of causality predicts participation in physical activity. Journal of Health Psychology, 7, 685–699. doi: 10.1177/1359105302007006872 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chaudhury, M., & Esliger, D. (2009). Accelerometry in adults. In R. Craig, J. Mindell, & V. Hirani (Eds.), Health survey for England 2008. Volume 1: Physical activity and fitness (pp. 59–88). Leeds: The NHS Information Centre.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 155–159. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.155 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Daley, A. J., & Duda, J. L. (2006). Self-determination, stage of readiness to change for exercise, and frequency of physical activity in young people. European Journal of Sport Science, 6, 231–243. doi: 10.1080/17461390601012637 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Daw, N. D., Niv, Y., & Dayan, P. (2005). Uncertainty based competition between prefrontal and dorsolateral striatal systems for behavioral control. Nature Neuroscience, 8, 1704–1711. doi: 10.1038/nn1560 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. de Bruijn, G. J., & Rhodes, R. E. (2011). Exploring exercise behavior, intention and habit strength relationships. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 21, 482–491. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01064.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. de Wit, S., & Dickinson, A. (2009). Associative theories of goal-directed behaviour: A case for animal-human translational models. Psychological Research, 73, 463–476. doi: 10.1007/s00426-009-0230-6 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Department of Health, UK. (2011). Start active, stay active: A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers. London: Department of Health. Accessed 25 June 2012.
  17. Duncan, L. R., Hall, C. R., Wilson, P. M., & Jenny, O. (2010). Exercise motivation: A cross-sectional analysis examining its relationships with frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7, 7. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-7-7 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Edmunds, J., Ntoumanis, N., & Duda, J. L. (2006). A test of self-determination theory in the exercise domain. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36, 2240–2265. doi: 10.1111/j.0021-9029.2006.00102.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Field, A. (2009). Discovering statistics using SPSS. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  20. Gardner, B. (2009a). Modelling motivation and habit in stable travel mode contexts. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 12, 68–76. doi: 10.1016/j.trf.2008.08.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gardner, B. (2009b). Incentivised snowballing. The Psychologist, 22, 768–769.Google Scholar
  22. Gardner, B. (2012). Habit as automaticity, not frequency. European Health Psychologist, 14, 32–36. Retrieved June 7, 2012 from
  23. Gardner, B., & Abraham, C. (2009). What’s in a ‘habit’? A conceptual analysis and test of an automaticity-specific index. BPS social psychology section conference, Sheffield, UK, 15th September.Google Scholar
  24. Gardner, B., de Bruijn, G. J., & Lally, P. (2011). A systematic review and meta-analysis of applications of the self-report habit index to nutrition and physical activity behaviours. Annals of Behavioural Medicine, 42, 174–187. doi: 10.1007/s12160-011-9282-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Georgiadis, M. M., Biddle, S. J. H., & Chatzisarantis, N. L. D. (2001). The mediating role of self-determination in the relationship between goal orientations and physical self-worth in Greek exercisers. European Journal of Sport Science, 1, 1–9. doi: 10.1080/17461390100071502 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gionet, N. J., & Godin, G. (1989). Self-reported exercise behavior of employees: A validity study. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 31, 969–973.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Godin, G., & Shephard, R. J. (1985). A simple method to assess exercise behavior in the community. Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Sciences, 10, 141–146.Google Scholar
  28. Hagger, M., & Chatzisarantis, N. (2008). Self-determination theory and the psychology of exercise. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1, 79–103. doi: 10.1080/17509840701827437 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Haskell, W. L., I-Min, L., Pate, R. R., Powell, K. E., Blair, S. N., Franklin, B. A., et al. (2007). Physical activity and public health: Updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39, 1423–1434. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.185649 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Judah, G., Gardner, B., & Aunger, R. (2012). Forming a flossing habit: Modelling the psychological determinants of habit formation. (Manuscript submitted for publication).Google Scholar
  31. Lally, P. & Gardner, B. (2011). Promoting habit formation. Health Psychology Review. doi: 10.1080/17437199.2011.603640
  32. Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998–1009. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.674 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Marcus, B. H., Williams, D. M., Dubbert, P. M., Sallis, J. F., King, A. C., Yancey, A. K. F. B. A., et al. (2006). Physical activity intervention studies: What we know and what we need to know: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism (Subcommittee on Physical Activity); Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young; and the Interdisciplinary Working Group on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research. Circulation, 114, 2739–2752. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.179683 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Markland, D., & Ingledew, D. K. (2007). The relationships between body mass and body image and relative autonomy for exercise among adolescent males and females. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8, 836–853. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2006.11.002 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Markland, D., & Tobin, V. (2004). A modification to the behavioural regulation in exercise questionnaire to include an assessment of amotivation. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 26, 191–196.Google Scholar
  36. Moors, A., & de Houwer, J. (2006). Automaticity: A theoretical and conceptual analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 297–326. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.2.297 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Orbell, S., & Verplanken, B. (2010). The automatic component of habit in health behavior: Habit as cue-contingent automaticity. Health Psychology, 29, 374–383. doi: 10.1037/a0019596 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ouellette, J. A., & Wood, W. (1998). Habit and intention in everyday life: The multiple processes by which past behavior predicts future behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 54–74. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.124.1.54 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rhodes, R., de Bruijn, G. J., & Matheson, D. H. (2010). Habit in the physical activity domain: Integration with intention temporal stability and action control. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 32, 84–98.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Rhodes, R., & Pfaeffli, L. (2010). Mediators of physical activity behaviour change among adult non-clinical populations: A review update. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7, 37. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-7-37 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rothman, A. J. (2000). Toward a theory-based analysis of behavioral maintenance. Health Psychology, 19, 64–69. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.19.Suppl1.64 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rothman, A. J., Sheeran, P., & Wood, W. (2009). Reflective and automatic processes in the initiation and maintenance of dietary change. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 38, S4–S17. doi: 10.1007/s12160-009-9118-3 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ryan, R. M., & Connell, J. P. (1989). Perceived locus of causality and internalization: Examining reasons for acting in two domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 749–761. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.57.5.749 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ryan, R. M., Frederick, C. M., Lepes, D., Rubio, N., & Sheldon, K. M. (1997). Intrinsic motivation and exercise adherence. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 28, 335–354.Google Scholar
  46. Silva, M. N., Markland, D., Carraça, E. V., Vieira, P., Coutinho, S. R., Minderico, C. S., et al. (2011). Exercise autonomous motivation predicts 3-yr weight loss in women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43, 728–737. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181f3818f PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sniehotta, F. F., & Presseau, J. (2012). The habitual use of the self-report habit index. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 43, 139–140. doi: 10.1007/s12160-011-9305-x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Standage, M., Sebire, S. J., & Loney, T. (2008). Does exercise motivation predict engagement in objectively assessed bouts of moderate-intensity exercise? A self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 30, 337–352.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Strack, F., & Deutsch, R. (2004). Reflective and impulsive determinants of social behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 220–247. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr0803_1 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C., & Ntoumanis, N. (2006). The role of self-determined motivation in the understanding of exercise-related behaviours, cognitions and physical self-evaluations. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24, 393–404. doi: 10.1080/02640410500131670 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Troiano, R. P., Berrigan, D., Dodd, K. W., Masse, L. C., Tilert, T., & McDowell, M. (2008). Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40, 181–188. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31815a51b3 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Verplanken, B., & Aarts, H. (1999). Habit, attitude, and planned behaviour: Is habit an empty construct or an interesting case of goal-directed automaticity? European Review of Social Psychology, 10, 101–134. doi: 10.1080/14792779943000035 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Verplanken, B., & Orbell, S. (2003). Reflections on past behavior: A self-report index of habit strength. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 1313–1330. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2003.tb01951.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Warburton, D. E. R., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. D. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. CMAJ, 174, 801–809. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.051351 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weinstein, N. (2007). Misleading tests of health behavior theories. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 33, 1–10. doi: 10.1207/s15324796abm3301_1 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wilson, P. M., Rodgers, W. M., Loitz, C. C., & Scime, G. (2006). “It’s who I am… really!” The importance of integrated regulation in exercise contexts. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 11, 79–104. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9861.2006.tb00021.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wood, W., & Neal, D. T. (2007). A new look at habits and the habit-goal interface. Psychological Review, 114, 843–863. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.114.4.843 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health Behaviour Research CentreUniversity College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations