The popular #fitspiration trend on Instagram and other social media platforms is intended to inspire healthy living (particularly exercise engagement), though several studies have documented the negative effects of fitspiration-style posts on women's body satisfaction and mood. Pairing fitspiration images with text focused on self-compassion shows promise for buffering this effect and warrants additional attention. In particular, little is known about the benefit of self-compassion (vs. traditional) messaging for exercise motivation or engagement, and few studies have examined gender differences in these effects. The present study used an experimental design to test the differential effects of fitspiration posts paired with traditional messaging, self-compassion messaging, or no text (image-only control). College students (N = 655; 59% women, 64% Caucasian) were randomized to view gender-congruent stimuli on Instagram; they then completed self-report measures of body satisfaction and exercise motivation, and their attendance at campus fitness centers was tracked over the following 7 days (to capture exercise engagement). Neither the expected benefits of self-compassion (vs. traditional) messages for body satisfaction and exercise motivation nor the expected benefit of traditional (vs. self-compassion) messages for exercise engagement were observed. However, results of exploratory analyses suggest that, as predicted, self-compassion messaging may be optimal for promoting positive outcomes among women, whereas images without associated text may be optimal for promoting positive outcomes among men (Cohen's ds = 0.14-0.41). Findings from this study provide insight into potential methods for optimizing the fitspiration trend to promote healthy self-perceptions and exercise engagement during college.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Psychology
- Behavioral Neuroscience