Physical ability-related self-conscious emotions in everyday life: Examining the effects of physical self-comparisons and self-compassion


Self-perceptions of physical ability have been identified as important predictors of physical activity behaviour and experiences, yet research is limited in understanding the unique affective experiences that relate to negatively evaluating one's physical abilities. As such, the present study tested physical self-comparisons and self-compassion as within- and between-person predictors of self-conscious emotions (i.e., shame, guilt, embarrassment, envy) related to one's physical abilities. An ecological momentary assessment design was used with young women (n = 148; Mage = 20.47, SD = 2.05 years) who responded to 7-daily surveys for 1-week. Multilevel modelling suggested that women reported higher ability-related self-conscious emotions during instances when upward physical self-comparisons were higher than usual (?s= 0.10 to 0.21; ps < .01) and when self-compassion was lower than usual (?s = -0.22 to -0.32; ps < .001). Similarly, higher average levels of upward physical self-comparisons and lower levels of self-compassion were associated with more ability-related self-conscious emotions on average (ps < .05). At higher average levels of self-compassion, the relationship between upward physical self-comparisons and ability-related emotions weakened (ps < .01). These findings demonstrate that daily comparisons of physical abilities to "superior" others are associated with feeling self-conscious – which may negatively implicate physical activity experiences and participation. Women with higher levels of self-compassion may be protected against the negative affective consequences of comparing one's physical abilities unfavourably. Future research should continue to explore how to encourage women to disrupt upward social comparisons of their physical abilities and cultivate compassionately responding to oneself.

Acknowledgments: Kelsey Sick is supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC CGS-D).