International Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 139–143

For the Overweight, is Proximity to In-Shape, Normal-Weight Exercisers a Deterrent or an Attractor? An Examination of Contextual Preferences


DOI: 10.1007/s12529-012-9281-y

Cite this article as:
Dunlop, W.L. & Schmader, T. Int.J. Behav. Med. (2014) 21: 139. doi:10.1007/s12529-012-9281-y



For the overweight, is the thought of exercising in close proximity to physically fit, normal-weight individuals a deterrent or an attractor? Efforts to address this question stand to inform future intervention-based research.


The purpose of the study was to examine whether overweight individuals possess a preference for exercising alongside similarly overweight (relative to in-shape, normalweight) persons.


Relying upon an experimental paradigm, American participants evaluated one of four exercise contexts and completed a measure of social physique anxiety.


Overweight participants high in social physique anxiety exhibited a preference for exercise contexts comprised of other overweight individuals whereas overweight participants low in physique anxiety exhibited a preference for contexts comprised of in-shape, normal-weight individuals. A relative preference for social contexts among normal-weight participants was not observed.


These findings suggest that the provision of group-based programs designed exclusively for the overweight may be appropriate for overweight individuals anxious about the evaluation of their physique. These results also suggest that such programs may conflict with the preferences of overweight persons with a low degree of social physique anxiety. Thus, for the overweight (but not the normal-weight), exercising in close proximity to in-shape, normal-weight individuals can be both a deterrent and an attractor.


Contextual preferences Weight status Social physique anxiety Relational demography Social identity 

Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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