Jessica Unick​, PhD

Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior (Research)


Advance-CTR Pilot Projects Program (2018)

"Memory Bias of Affective Responses to Physical Activity: A Novel Intervention Target for Increasing Physical Activity"
Co-PIs: Kathryn Demos, PhD (Contact PI) and David Williams, PhD

Obesity and physical inactivity are significant clinical and public health concerns. Less than half of adults achieve the national physical activity (PA) guidelines, and based on objective PA measures, only ~10% actually meet these criteria. Thus, it is important to understand factors that contribute to the decision to not engage in PA. Affective response to exercise, defined as the pleasure or displeasure experienced with PA, has been shown to predict exercise behavior (i.e., those who feel 'good' during exercise engage in more PA compared to those who feel worse during exercise). However, an interesting paradox exists in that most individuals report feeling good after exercise, regardless of how they felt during exercise. Despite this positive feeling, they don't engage in future exercise. One possible explanation for this is that one's memory of how they felt in response to exercise (recalled affect) may be biased. Since affect during exercise tends to be less positive than affect following exercise, it is possible that non-exercisers are more likely to remember the most negative aspect of the exercise bout rather than the more positive feelings experienced later, causing them to 'dread' exercise. To date, no studies have assessed recalled affect and its relationship to exercise behavior. The current study examines whether a group of regular 'exercisers' and 'non-exercisers' differ in their memory of how exercise made them feel. It is hypothesized that 'exercisers' will remember a PA bout more accurately or more positively, while 'non-exercisers' will remember it to be more negative than was actually the case. 'Non-exercisers' will then be randomized to receive either a brief intervention aimed at making affective recall of exercise more positive or no intervention (control). Both groups will be instructed to increase PA to 150 min/wk over 1 week. It is hypothesized that those in the intervention will remember exercise more positively, leading to more positive anticipated affect for future PA and, in turn, greater PA. more positively, leading to more positive anticipated affect for future PA and, in turn, greater PA. This project is a significant first step towards investigating a novel mechanism that may explain why some individuals choose to engage in PA while others do not, and will provide the necessary pilot data to support a larger RCT to test a PA intervention targeting memory bias.