Affective response as a mediator of the association between the physical and social environment and physical activity behavior

  • Holly K. Boyle
  • Shira I. Dunsiger
  • Lauren Connell Bohlen
  • Jessica A. Emerson
  • Harold H. Lee
  • Courtney J. Stevens
  • David M. WilliamsEmail author


Perceptions of the physical and social environment have been shown to be predictive of physical activity (PA) behavior. However, the mechanisms of this association have not been examined. Affective response to PA was examined as a putative mediator of the association between perceptions of the PA environment and subsequent PA behavior. As part of a PA promotion study, 59 low-active overweight or obese but otherwise healthy adults completed real-time assessments of the perceived physical and social PA environment, affective response to PA, and PA behavior over a 6-month period. As hypothesized, decreased latency to and greater duration of subsequent PA was predicted by engaging in PA with a partner (b = 17.24, SE = .45, p < .01), engaging in PA outdoors versus indoors (b = 3.70, SE = 0.67, p < .01), and perceived pleasantness of the physical (b = 0.59, SE = .17, p < .01) and social settings (b = 0.68, SE = .16, p < .01). Affective response to PA (a shift toward feeling good versus bad during PA) mediated the association between engaging in PA with a partner (a path: 0.53(.11), p < .01, b path: 0.42(.12), p < .01, ab path: 0.22(.08), 95% CI .09–.41) and perceived pleasantness of the physical (a path: .38(.02), p < .01; b path: .65(.23), p = .01; ab path: .25(.09), 95% CI .08–.43) and social setting (a path: .35(.02), p < .01; b path: .57(.23), p = .01; ab path: .20(.08), 95% CI .03–.37) and PA behavior, but not the association between engaging in PA outdoors versus indoors and PA behavior. These findings suggest that perceived environmental variables may have their effects on PA through the process of psychological hedonism.


Physical activity Walking Perceived environment Social context Affective response Psychological hedonism 



Funded by the National Cancer Institute: R21 CA137211.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Holly K. Boyle, Shira I. Dunsiger, Lauren Connell Bohlen, Jessica A. Emerson, Harold H. Lee, Courtney J. Stevens and David M. Williams declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights and Informed consent

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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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Holly K. Boyle
    • 1
  • Shira I. Dunsiger
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lauren Connell Bohlen
    • 3
  • Jessica A. Emerson
    • 1
  • Harold H. Lee
    • 1
  • Courtney J. Stevens
    • 4
  • David M. Williams
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral and Social SciencesBrown University School of Public HealthProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Centers for Behavioral and Preventive MedicineThe Miriam HospitalProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.Department of KinesiologyUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA
  4. 4.Dartmouth Centers for Health and AgingGeisel School of MedicineLebanonUSA

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