Background

Physical inactivity is a proximal determinant of obesity.Developing interventions to increase physical activity among young adults is essential in lowering risks related to being overweight, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Previous research has successfully manipulated social comparison targets to increase physical activity.Historically, upward and downward social comparison information has been examined separately. The current study examines the separate and combined effects of upward and downward social comparison. Comparison information is manipulated using Twitter.

Methods

A sample of undergraduate students (N=154, 71.9% female) took part in a cross-sectional study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: upward comparison, downward comparison, combined (upward + downward), and control.Participants in the upward condition read Tweets from highly active individuals, participants in the downward condition read Tweets from extremely inactive individuals, those in the combined condition viewed Tweets from both active and inactive individuals, and the control condition participants were exposed to Tweets unrelated to physical activity and diet.The primary dependent variables were physical activity attitudes and intentions. Exercise self-efficacy and social comparison orientation were tested as moderators of the relationship between condition and the two primary outcomes.

Results

A MANOVA revealed that there was no main effect of condition on physical activity attitudes or intentions.Social comparison orientation did not significantly interact with condition to predict physical activity cognitions. Similarly, exercise self-efficacy did not significantly moderate the relationship between condition and physical activity attitudes or intentions.

Conclusions

The current study provides empirical evidence of the effects of combining upward and downward comparison information on physical activity cognitions in a social media setting.