International Journal of Exercise Science 7(3): 220-227, 2014. This study examined the influence of exercise environment and gender on post-exercise mood and exertion. College student participants (55 females, 49 males) were instructed to pedal a stationary bike at a moderate pace for 20 minutes. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three laboratory conditions: (1) exercising in front of a mirror and posters showing ideal fit body types (i.e., celebrity male and female personal trainers), (2) exercising in front of a mirror only, or (3) a control condition in which participants exercised without a mirror or posters. The Activation-Deactivation Adjective Check List (AD-ACL), measuring exercise-induced mood states, was administered both before and after exercise. Average bike speed throughout the exercise session measured exertion. Mirrors and posters of ideally fit celebrities did interact with gender on post-exercise tension in that women felt most tense after exercising in front of the mirror and posters while men were most tense after exercising in front of the mirror only. Exercise exertion was also impacted by experimental condition such that participants rode significantly faster in the mirror and posters condition. There was no significant interaction of gender and condition on exercise exertion, but women pedaled fastest in the mirror and poster condition relative to the other conditions. Results suggest that exercise exertion and tension reduction are partially a by-product of gender and exercise environment.
Alex’s Notes: Getting straight to the point, the covers of fitness magazines and the majority of media models all convey an image of the ideal fit physique. The problem is that these images are not realistically attainable. These models make heavy use of lighting, make-up, and physiological tricks to show as much muscle definition as possible at the time of the photo or film, and even then there is likely to be some photo-shop involved before we see the finished product. Even bodybuilders use these tricks when on stage to exaggerate their muscle striations and few people forget that they never walk around at those levels of leanness except for perhaps the 1-3 weeks surrounding the show date.
Needless to say, we have been brainwashed to believe that the extreme is the ideal. Of course, much of how this influences a person will depend on their self-esteem and habits. For example, men exposed to images of muscular male models showed invigoration if they were frequent exercisers, but sedentary males became more upset by their physical appearance. Additionally, an object found in all gyms – the mirror – heightens one’s self-awareness of their physique, and with the comparison to other persons or posters of models nearby, a variety of positive or negative emotions can occur. Anyways, the study at hand aimed to see the effects of mirrors and fit-ideal body images on post-exercise mood and exercise exertion in 104 undergraduate students. Don’t worry; they received research credit for an introductory psychology course for participating.
“Participants were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: control, mirror, or mirror + poster (m + p). Participants exercised on a stationary bicycle facing a wall (i.e., control condition), a mirror (i.e., mirror only condition), or a mirror plus two fitness posters (i.e., mirror and poster condition). The two posters were of a highly fit male celebrity fitness trainer and a highly fit female celebrity fitness trainer.”
First and foremost, it is important to point out that regardless of condition or gender, exercise alone increased feelings of relaxation, energy, and tension, while decreasing feelings of fatigue and calmness. Men felt the most tense in the mirror only condition, whereas women were most tense with the mirrors and posters. Moreover, the mirror and poster condition made all subjects exercise more intensely while the mirror only condition did not.
It is interesting that women felt less tense than men in the mirror only condition, and it was only when an ideal-fit model poster was nearby that tension significantly increased. This likely primed self-comparison and given the large intra-individual differences, it is also likely that a personality variable and self-perceived image influenced which women were inspired and which was put-off.
As for men, the posters don’t make a difference and the mirror does. They probably see themselves and get into some weird type of self-competition with their reflection. I know I do at times. Admit it, so do you.