The prevailing couch potato judgment: Impressions of exercisers, non-exercisers, and sedentary individuals


Typically, non-exercisers are viewed less favourably on dimensions of personality and physical characteristics compared with exercisers (Martin et al., 2000, 2003). To date, little research has examined how sedentary behaviour affects the impressions we form. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to examine whether information on sedentary behaviour would impact the impression formed among young adults. It was hypothesized individuals described as engaging in sedentary behaviours would be perceived more negatively than those described as exercisers or non-exercisers. Participants (N = 203) were provided with a brief description of an individual including one of the following: regular exereciser, non-exerciser, control (no exercise or sedentary behaviours mentioned), productive sedentary behaviour (e.g., homework), or non-productive sedentary behaviour (e.g., TV viewing). Next, participants completed the impression formation questionnaire, rating the described individual on 13 personality and 9 physical characteristic dimensions using a 9-point scale. Two MANOVAs were conducted with target gender and condition as the independent variables. Results indicated a significant overall MANOVA for target condition only, Wilks’ λ= .49, F (8, 394) = 21.37, p < .001, ηp2 = .30. Follow-up analysis indicated significant effects for pesonality ratings, F (4, 198) = 9.50, p = .000, and appearance ratings, F (4, 198) = 34.69, p = .000. Regular exercisers and the control condition (no mention of exercise or sedentary behaviours) were rated more favourably on all personality and appearance dimensions compared with non-exercisers, productive sedentary and non-productive sedentary indviduals ( ps < .01). Therefore, our hypothesis was partially supported as individuals who were described as engaging in sedentary behaviours were perceived more negatively than those described as exercisers. However, non-exercisers and sedentary individuals were rated similarily on personality and appearance dimensions.  Future studies should examine potential moderators in this relationship, such as an individual's own exercise and sedentary behaviours.