Date of Award

Fall 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Director

Kristin Heron

Committee Member

Abby Braitman

Committee Member

Robin Lewis


Exercise is highly recommended by health professionals due to its numerous health benefits, yet little is known about the social factors that influence people’s motivation to exercise each day. Studies on social comparisons reveal that college women frequently evaluate their weight and shape compared to those around them through upward body-focused comparisons (i.e., comparing themselves to someone they perceive to be thinner or in better physical shape). Research suggests these comparisons can be driven by two different motivations, self-evaluation and self-improvement. However, the occurrence of these two different types of motivations in everyday life and how they may be associated with different levels of body dissatisfaction and exercise behaviors have yet to be examined in an ecologically valid study. The purpose of this study was to examine whether the way in which women seek and internalize daily upward body-focused social comparisons, in a self-evaluation or a self-improvement manner, is associated with different levels of body dissatisfaction, exercise intentions, and behaviors. Undergraduate college women (N = 74, Mage = 20.4 years) completed ecological momentary assessment measures on the frequency and nature of their social comparisons, their thoughts of exercising, and body dissatisfaction five times per day for seven consecutive days. Intentions to exercise the next day were gathered each night and their exercise behavior was collected continuously with a Fitbit accelerometer. Multilevel analyses revealed that comparisons high in self-evaluation and self-improvement were significantly associated with greater momentary thoughts of exercising (ps.05). However, person-level differences in baseline measures of body dissatisfaction, appearance comparison tendency, and exercise behaviors used as moderators revealed differences between these motivations as well as their associations with body dissatisfaction and exercise behaviors. This was the first study to examine motivations to engage in naturally occurring upward body-focused comparisons. Theoretical and clinical implications associated with self-improvement motivation findings and future directions for research are discussed.


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