Background: Information shared via social media influences college students' self-perceptions and behavior, particularly, "fitspiration" posts (ie, images of healthy food, people exercising, or fitness quotations). There are mixed findings regarding the mental health implications of fitspiration and its potential to motivate healthy behavior. Individual differences such as social comparison orientation and regulatory focus could aid in determining for whom fitspiration may be helpful versus harmful, though these characteristics have received limited attention in terms of students' fitspiration perceptions. Objective: This cross-sectional study examined associations between students' fitspiration use (ie, intentional versus unintentional exposure while using social media), response tendencies (ie, feelings about the self and motivation to be physically active), social comparison orientation, and regulatory focus. Methods: College students (N=344; 239/344, 69.5% women) completed an electronic survey in which they self-reported demographic information, the frequency of their social media use, exposure to fitspiration posts, typical feelings in response to fitspiration posts, and typical motivation for physical activity after viewing fitspiration posts. They also completed validated self-report measures of social comparison orientation and regulatory focus. Results: College students reported frequent exposure to fitspiration posts on social media and that they experienced negative feelings in response to these posts more often than positive feelings. Average motivation for physical activity was rated as feeling motivated "some of the time." However, students who reported more negative feelings after viewing fitspiration also reported greater motivation to be physically active after exposure. Associations between the frequency of intentional fitspiration use and motivation for physical activity after viewing fitspiration posts were moderated by social comparison orientation (b=-0.01, P=.03) but not by regulatory focus (b=-0.002, P=.67). Conclusions: Negative feelings about the self may be motivating for students with weak social comparison orientation, as fitspiration may highlight a discrepancy between one's real and ideal self that does not prompt dejection or disengagement. However, negative feelings for prevention-focused students might not be as motivating because there are no salient negative models to avoid. Further research into these associations is warranted and could inform future efforts to promote student health and well-being during college.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health