Researchers have advocating grounding behaviour change messages in a sound theoretical framework such as Self-Determination Theory (SDT). Following SDT, framing messages intrinsically, as opposed to extrinsically has been linked to deeper processing and greater commitment. Yet, little research has investigated how message recipients perceive framed message content. Previous research demonstrates that humans can implicitly differentiate between intrinsic and extrinsically framed words but struggle to categorize them explicitly. This may be due to differences in the publics' interpretation of these words when compared to those with a sound understanding of the theory. The purpose of this research was to compare perceptions of exercise motivation words between SDT researchers and the public.
Using an online survey, 13 SDT researchers and 237 laypersons were presented with definitions of autonomous and controlling motivation created through consultation with SDT researchers. Participants were then asked to select one of: autonomous, controlling, could be either, or neither for 117 words, sourced from motivation scales and research. Chi-Square or Fisher's exact tests (dependent on sample size) were conducted 117 times to compared differences in word perception by group. Only 19 words reported no significant differences between groups, while the remaining 98 words were categorized significantly differently when the two groups were compared, p < .05. There is a clear disparity between SDT expert's classification of exercise motivation words and how these are perceived by the general population. The results of this study will highlight problematic differences in perception to be considered in exercise messaging research moving forward.