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The Gender Differences And Effects Of Exercise On Positive And Negative Affect

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There has been a large variety of research done on the effects that exercise has on mood and perceived body image. For this study, participants were given surveys on positive and negative affect and number of hours per week spent exercising to assess the relationships between positive and negative affect, exercise, and gender. Previous research on this topic shows significant correlation between positive affect but no significance between negative affect. Results agreed with previous research and indicated positive affect have significant correlation and negative affect had no significance in relation to exercise and gender. Keywords: Positive affect, Negative affect, Exercise, gender


There is ever growing research on how exercise effects psychological functioning in daily life. Exercise is known to make you healthier, more alert, and happier in comparison to lack of physical activity. This subject is important because the implications of not exercising seem to have a great effect on human being’s emotional state and well-being. Also, with further research people may utilize this knowledge for themselves or in a clinical setting when supporting patients with appropriate treatments. Aspects reviewed in relation to exercise in this research includes positive affect, negative affect and gender. My assumptions are that exercise will have a positive relationship with positive affect with males, while negative affect would yield no significance in males, but have some effect on females.

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Positive affect and exercise

Blue collar women in five different counties were surveyed about health and health behaviors to determine the relationship of positive affect and the self-reported health behaviors and the results indicated that positive affect was related to exercise and overall health (Kelsey, K. S. , DeVellis, B. M. , Begum, M. , Belton, L. , Hooten, E. G. , & Campbell, M. K. , 2006). Another study conducted by Stroth et al. (2009) examined participants in a 6-week exercise training schedule against a control group to look at affect, among other things, and found a significant relationship between positive affect and exercise. Negative affect and exercise

Research on exercise and negative affect is generally looked at along with positive affect. Research by Giacobbi and colleagues (2007) on 59 college students explained that there was no significant relationship between negative affect and exercise but later found that exercise and negative affect were significant when moderated by threat interaction (e. g. final exams). It is important to note, considering my assumptions that females are more uncomfortable in their own bodies and therefore create a stressor due to body image. Unfortunately, there was no correlation between exercise and decreased negative affect. Similar to the previous study, Watson (1988) used daily mood scores and other surveys to conduct his research yielding the same results with no correlation between exercise and negative affect. Lobstein and colleagues (1983) studied men who classified as sedentary or active and found that depression and socially introverted characteristics are more common in the sedentary lifestyle (Plante, Thomas G. , & Rodin, Judith, 1990, Lobstein, D. D. , Mosbacher, B. J. , & Ismail, A. H. , 1983).

Smith, Handley and Eldredge (1998) found that females’ motivation for exercising is mainly for attractiveness reasons. Also, McDonald and Thompson (1992) noted that when exercise is used mainly for weight control it is correlated with negative body image. Most of the research reviewed did not solely look at amount of exercise and negative affect in women versus men. MeasuresParticipants were given surveys first about demographic information consisting of questions regarding age, gender, ethnicity and hours of exercise per week. Also used was the Positive Affect Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) which is a valid and reliable survey of mood (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). It consists of twenty questions on specific feelings pertaining to positive affect (e. g. excited, interested) and negative affect (e. g. hostile, upset) and participants are asked to rate how they felt in the past 6 months (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). The scale was as follows: 1 very slightly or not at all, 2 a little, 3 moderately, 4 quite a bit, 5 extremely.

Data Analysis

We used the demographic data and PANAS scale run against the amount of exercise per week. To look at the statistical significance we ran Pearson’s product moment correlation. Also, for positive and negative affect data was split by gender and reviewed Pearson’s Product Moment correlation.


Positive affect

The hypothesis on positive affect and amount of exercise was confirmed for males. Increased positive affect is significantly correlated with an increase in amount of exercise in males, r=x. xx, p<0. 01. Meaning participants who scored higher on the positive affect scale had a higher number of hours exercised per week. Females produced a not significant finding but was trending toward positive correlation, r=x. xx, p>0. 05. Negative affectPearson’s Product Moment correlation was used and produced no significant correlation between amount of exercise and negative affect between males and females, r=x. xx, p=N. S. Showing that my hypothesis of women generating negative affect with exercise was incorrect.


When analyzing the significant correlations obtained through this study, it is congruent with the previous research. Positive affect and exercise has been shown to be significantly correlated in this study as in previous research. As Stroth et al. (2009) proved that frequent exercise is significantly correlated with positive affect. The participants had a better outlook on life and reported higher scores for positive affect (Stroth, S., Hille, K., Spitzer, M., & Reinhardt, R., 2009). When we split the data by gender, males had significant correlation of positive affect and exercise while females did not yield a significant correlation, but were at trend level.

The belief is women put more emphasis on appearance and this could cause a decrease in the feelings related to positive affect. Congruent with previous research, negative affect has no significant correlation with amount of exercise for neither men or women. The results disagree with my hypothesis that women would still correlate with negative affect. With the consideration that females may place more stress on their own body image, I felt that negative affect might play a broader role. These findings can support therapies that utilize exercise when dealing with issues that fit into the negative affect category, such as low self-esteem, hostility, and depression. Increasing exercise and help negate these feelings and more towards the positive affect in both men and women. Exercise use in therapy can continue to be touted with the knowledge that in both genders it is a positive relationship to a better daily life in patients.


One of the limitations of this study is that it was a self-report survey in which participants may not be truthful, especially when it asks more personal questions or questions that challenge self-perception. Dishonesty could potentially skew the data. Even though the measures used were valid and reliable, more survey questions could examine more deeply into the feelings associated with positive affect and negative affect. Also, there are potential unaccounted for variables affecting the opportunity for exercise like home life, extra expenses for a gym membership, and whether the participants are working full time jobs or in school. For future research, we would need to take some of these issues into account to allow for a better understanding of gender differences and exercise.


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