"There is no truth. There is only perception": Exploring perceptions of goal words guided by self determination theory framework


Within the exercise context, intrinsic relative to extrinsic goals are associated with optimal outcomes, including exercise engagement, exercise frequency, physical self-worth, and psychological well-being. Consequently, scholars have recommended conveying messages that promote intrinsic goals. Unfortunately, research has demonstrated a disconnect between how researchers and the general population categorize exercise goals as intrinsic or extrinsic. This is problematic because message designers must be confident readers perceive exercise goals as intended if they wish to foster the optimal outcomes associated with intrinsic goals. The purpose of this study was to determine which exercise goal words adults perceived as intrinsic and/or extrinsic, and if perceptions differ between the general populations' and SDT experts, adults of different goal orientations, and different genders. A cross-sectional, online survey was presented to SDT experts (n = 13) and general population participants (nmen = 123, nwomen = 188). Chi-Square tests of 118 words demonstrated that within the general population, 46 words were perceived as intrinsic and 25 as extrinsic. Experts and general population participants differed significantly on 55% of words, men and women on 21%, and individuals of different goal orientations varied significantly on 7%. In summary, this study identified 46 words that exercise promoters can confidently use to represent intrinsic goals (mastery, health, independence) and 25 should be avoided because they're perceived as extrinsic goals (appearance, compete, pressure). It also highlighted words such as physique, perform, or lose weight, that were perceived with high levels of ambiguity and therefore should be approached with caution.