Implicit approach—avoidance associations predict leisure-time exercise independently of explicit exercise motivation.

Traditional models of exercise motivation presume that behavior is driven by rational decision-making processes. However, recent evidence suggests that automatic motivational processes also play a role in motivating exercise behavior. The current study examined whether regular exercise engagement is linked to implicit approach—avoidance memory associations, as well as explicit intentions and self-determined exercise motivation. A sample of 104 healthy adults completed self-reported measures of exercise intentions, self-determined exercise motivation, and levels of exercise engagement. Approach—avoidance associations were measured using a modified Recoding-Free Implicit Association Test. Overall, participants associated exercise more strongly with approach than with avoidance attributes in memory, indicating an approach bias for exercise cues. In addition, individuals who reported engaging in higher levels of leisure-time exercise displayed a significantly stronger approach bias for exercise than less active individuals. Furthermore, approach—avoidance associations explained unique variance in exercise behavior after controlling for the effects of explicit exercise intentions and self-determined exercise motivation. These findings suggest that increased engagement in leisure-time exercise is associated with an implicit cognitive bias to approach exercise-related cues in the environment. Moreover, these findings support current theoretical models that suggest that exercise is at least partly motivated by implicit motivational processes. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)