Expectations affect psychological and neurophysiological benefits even after a single bout of exercise

Abstract

The study investigated whether typical psychological, physiological, and neurophysiological changes from a single exercise are affected by one’s beliefs and expectations. Seventy-six participants were randomly assigned to four groups and saw different multimedia presentations suggesting that the subsequent exercise (moderate 30 min cycling) would result in more or less health benefits (induced expectations). Additionally, we assessed habitual expectations reflecting previous experience and beliefs regarding exercise benefits. Participants with more positive habitual expectations consistently demonstrated both greater psychological benefits (more enjoyment, mood increase, and anxiety reduction) and greater increase of alpha-2 power, assessed with electroencephalography. Manipulating participants’ expectations also resulted in largely greater increases of alpha-2 power, but not in more psychological exercise benefits. On the physiological level, participants decreased their blood pressure after exercising, but this was independent of their expectations. These results indicate that habitual expectations in particular affect exercise-induced psychological and neurophysiological changes in a self-fulfilling manner.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the following individuals: Lena Molitor, Laura Thomas, Christian Heyde, Axel Scherle, Florian Pfister, Matthias Braeunig, Berthold Krabbe, Sören Enge, and Mathis Trautwein.

Funding

This research was supported by a grant to H. Mothes from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

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Correspondence to Hendrik Mothes.

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Hendrik Mothes, Christian Leukel, Han-Gue Jo, Harald Seelig, Stefan Schmidt, and Reinhard Fuchs declare that they do not have any conflict of interest.

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All procedures followed were in accordance with ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000. Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.

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Mothes, H., Leukel, C., Jo, H. et al. Expectations affect psychological and neurophysiological benefits even after a single bout of exercise. J Behav Med 40, 293–306 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-016-9781-3

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Keywords

  • Expectation
  • Exercise
  • EEG
  • Placebo effect
  • Mental health
  • Mindset