Mental imagery-based self-regulation: Effects on physical activity behaviour and its cognitive and affective precursors over time

Nicole Ackermann, Linda D. Cameron, Julia Maki, Chelsey R. Carter, Ying Liu, Hank Dart, Deborah J. Bowen, Graham A. Colditz, Erika A. Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: (1) Test whether a mental imagery-based self-regulation intervention increases physical activity behaviour over 90 days; (2) Examine cognitive and affective precursors of change in physical activity behaviour. Design: A randomized control trial with participants (N = 500) randomized to one of six intervention conditions in a 3 (risk communication format: bulleted list, table, risk ladder) x 2 (mental imagery behaviour: physical activity, active control [sleep hygiene]) factorial design. Methods: After receiving personalized risk estimates via a website on a smartphone, participants listened to an audiorecording that guided them through a mental imagery activity related to improving physical activity (intervention group) or sleep hygiene behaviour (active control). Participants received text message reminders to complete the imagery for 3 weeks post-intervention, 4 weekly text surveys to assess behaviour and its cognitive and affective precursors, and a mailed survey 90 days post-baseline. Results: Physical activity increased over 90 days by 19.5 more minutes per week (95%CI: 2.0, 37.1) in the physical activity than the active control condition. This effect was driven by participants in the risk ladder condition, who exercised 54.8 more minutes (95%CI 15.6, 94.0) in the physical activity condition than participants in the active control sleep hygiene group. Goal planning positively predicted physical activity behaviour (b = 12.2 minutes per week, p = 0.002), but self-efficacy, image clarity, and affective attitudes towards behaviours did not (p > 0.05). Conclusions: Mental imagery-based self-regulation interventions can increase physical activity behaviour, particularly when supported by personalized disease risk information presented in an easy-to-understand format.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)484-500
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Intervention
  • Mental imagery
  • Physical activity
  • Self-regulation
  • mHealth


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