Self-conscious emotions in response to physical activity success and failure: Findings from a global 112-day pedometer intervention

  • Eva Pila University of Toronto
  • Stefanie Tignor Northeastern University
  • Jenna Gilchrist University of Toronto
  • Catherine Sabiston University of Toronto
  • Paul Fombelle Northeastern University
  • Nancy Sirianni Northeastern University


Self-conscious emotions are critical in the attainment of socially valued goals, whereby failure to meet goals is associated with shame and guilt, and successful goal attainment is associated with pride. Despite the inherently goal-directed and social nature of physical activity, there is limited research examining the function of self-conscious emotions in physical activity contexts. In this study, changes in exercise-related self-conscious emotions were examined as a function of goal attainment in a long-term physical activity intervention. The intervention consisted of a 112-day team-based activity to reach a daily step count goal of 10,000 steps per day. Participants (N = 17,769; Mage = 42.9, SD = 10.47; 48.2% female) recorded their daily step count and completed pre- and post- assessments of emotional tendencies in response to exercise failure (i.e., shame, guilt), and exercise success (i.e., pride). A mixed ANOVA model controlling for age and gender revealed a significant interaction effect between time and goal attainment for all emotions, Wilks' λ = .99, F (3, 17763) = 14.04, p < .001. Compared to individuals who succeeded in achieving their step goal on more than half of the intervention days, individuals who failed to achieve their step goal reported increased guilt, F(1, 17765) = 32.97, p < .001, shame, F(1, 17765) = 18.83, p < .001, and pride, F(1, 17765) = 14.61, p < .001. The observed increase in both negative and positive emotions in the low achievement group may be due to the nature of the intervention, which increases awareness of failed and successful achievements by both self and others. Overall, these findings highlight the unique functions of self-conscious emotions for attaining socially valued physical activity goals.

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council CGS Doctoral Scholarships awarded to first and third authors.