Exploring the association between body-related emotions and university students' mental health and physical activity behaviour


Body image emotions are important correlates of health behaviour engagement and well-being, and are especially salient among emerging adults. Given that emotions tied to the body's appearance are distinct from those linked to the body's function, it is important to examine how these domain-specific emotions are associated with health outcomes. This multi-study investigation examined the unique associations between appearance- and fitness-related emotions of pride, shame, and guilt, and indices of mental health and physical activity (PA) behaviour among university students. Study 1 compared the strength of the associations between appearance- and fitness-related emotions to mental health and PA behaviour. University students (N=387) completed measures of appearance- and fitness-related emotions, self-esteem, depression, affect, and PA behaviour. Fitness-related pride, shame, and guilt were significantly stronger correlates of PA behaviour (r=-.50-.53; Z=5.38-6.80, p<.05), whereas appearance-related shame and guilt were more strongly associated with self-esteem, depression and negative affect (r=-.33-.52; Z=1.20-3.30, p<.05). Study 2 aimed to further test the relationship between appearance-related emotions, indicators of mental health, and PA behaviour over time. University students (N=170) completed online questionnaires to assess appearance-related emotions at baseline, and depression, affect and PA behaviour 10 weeks later. Appearance-related shame (?=.44-.50, p<.01) and guilt (?=.41-.42, p<.01) predicted depression and negative affect, while appearance-related pride (?=.29, p<.01) predicted positive affect. These findings suggest that appearance- and fitness-related emotions uniquely contribute to students' mental health and PA behaviour, and thus are important factors to consider for interventions that aim to improve health behaviour engagement and mental health among university students.