Is variety a spice of (an active) life?: Perceived variety, exercise behaviour, and the mediating role of autonomous motivation


Beyond satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs (i.e., for competence, autonomy and relatedness) embedded within Self-Determination Theory, additional psychosocial experiences may exist and should be explored to better understand exercise motivation and behaviour.  One such experience is variety, which refers to the pursuit and experience of novel and/or alternating activities, behaviours, and opportunities in one’s social environment.  In this study, we examined whether perceived variety in exercise prospectively predicts unique variance in exercise behaviour when examined alongside satisfaction of the needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy, through the mediating role of autonomous and controlled motivation.  A convenience sample of community adults (N = 363) completed online questionnaires twice over a six-week period.  The results of structural equation modelling showed perceived variety (β = .058, p < .01) and satisfaction of the needs for competence (β = .080, p < .05) and relatedness (β = .068, p < .01) to be unique indirect positive predictors of exercise behaviour (through autonomous motivation) six weeks later.  In addition, satisfaction of the need for autonomy (β = -.203, p < .01) was found to negatively predict controlled motivation.  Perceived variety in exercise complemented satisfaction of the needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy in predicting motivation and (indirectly) exercise behaviour, and may act as a salient mechanism in the prediction of autonomous motivation and behaviour in exercise settings.  The results of this study provide insight into how/why perceived variety in exercise relates to exercise behaviour and lend weight to Sheldon’s (2011) contention that satisfaction of the needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy, may be an incomplete subset of the types of positive experiences that are involved in supporting autonomous motivation. 

Acknowledgments: This research was supported by a graduate scholarship awarded to Ben Sylvester by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as a career investigator award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research awarded to Mark Beauchamp.