Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Clinical Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

Stetson, Barbara

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

LaJoie, Scott

Committee Member

LaJoie, Scott

Committee Member

Sephton, Sandra

Committee Member

Levinson, Cheri

Committee Member

DeCaro, Daniel

Author's Keywords

weight stigma; exercise motivation; basic needs theory


Social influences, such as weight stigma, perpetuate rates of overweight and obesity, as well as contribute to poor physical and psychological health. It has been postulated that weight stigma negatively affects motivation to exercise, though the literature is mixed and underlying mechanisms of action are not well conceived. The present study aimed to: (1) explore the relationship between frequency of experienced weight stigma and exercise motivation and behavior (2) assess how frequency of experienced weight stigma might differ based on participant characteristics such as body weight and (3) consider unique associations between frequency of personal experiences with weight-based stigma, exercise motivation, and psychological need satisfaction (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) as outlined by the Basic Needs Theory. Exploration and clarification of these relationships will inform future longitudinal studies that can test the proposed conceptual model which suggests that psychological need satisfaction may mediate the relationship between experienced weight stigma and motivation to exercise. Participants were 144 women recruited through online platforms, such as Facebook, as well as a local farmer’s market. The present study utilized a cross-sectional study design and online self-report measures. Participant weight was obtained through self-report, as well as objective methods, as possible. Frequency of experienced weight stigma was not associated with intention to exercise; however, it was positively associated with motivation to avoid exercise and controlled (extrinsic) exercise motivation style and negatively associated with exercise behavior. Individuals with worse health status and those of higher body weight endorsed more frequent experiences with weight stigma situations. Those who endorsed more frequent experiences with weight stigma also endorsed less satisfaction of psychological needs, with the exception of exercise relatedness. Multivariate findings suggested that perceived exercise competence may be most influential with regard to intention to exercise. Results offer partial support for the proposed conceptual model and highlight the need for further exploration of the weight stigma-exercise motivation relationship, with specific focus on mechanisms of action. This research has numerous clinical and research implications. Findings from the present study can inform intervention to increase exercise motivation and behavior, promote adaptive coping and buffer from the negative effects of weight stigma.