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Exercise-Related Cognitive Errors: Measurement, Validation, and Process



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Background. This manuscript-style dissertation is comprised of three studies exploring the concept of exercise-related cognitive errors. Cognitive errors reflect individuals’ biased evaluations of context-relevant information. Cognitive errors are verbal statement[s] that suggest ways of evaluating information that reflect errors or biases away from the average or normative evaluation of the same material. The premise behind this program of research is that people do not always make rational decisions regarding their health and that biased information processing can influence how individuals perceive the situations they experience. Consequently, the unhelpful thoughts that result from cognitive errors may make regular exercise engagement more difficult. Each of the studies builds upon the previous in order to advance our understanding of exercise-related cognitive errors (ECEs). The purposes of the three manuscripts were to: (1) create the first ECE measure in the exercise literature, (2) explore how making ECEs relates to exercise adherence cognitions and behaviour, and (3) determine if information processing biases are related to ECEs. Results. Study 1 examined the factor structure of a newly created ECE measure. A 16-item, three-factor model was retained in the final Exercise-related Cognitive Errors Questionnaire’s factor structure (χ2=164.35, df=75, p<.001; RMSEA=.057; CFI=.947; TLI=.915) and had good psychometric properties among an adult sample (N = 364). Evidence of the questionnaire’s predictive utility was also assessed. For example, ECEs were negatively related to exercise and accounted for additional variance beyond the contribution of past exercise in predicting exercise intention. Study 2 examined associations between cognitive errors and exercise variables that predict adherence and behavioural patterns among adults. Those reporting high ECEs (n=92) exercised less and reported poorer psychological outcomes (e.g., more struggle in making exercise decisions, lower self-regulatory efficacy, lower persistence) compared to those reporting lower ECEs (n=272). All group differences were significant ([ps<.001] with large effects). There were also social cognitive and ECE differences between those reporting consistent, inconsistent, and no exercise patterns. These differences reflected medium to large effects across all study variables. Study 3 examined differences between high and low cognitive error groups on information processed about a relevant exercise decision-making situation. Those in the high ECE group (n=29) primarily focused on negative content from the situation (i.e., information that would make exercising more difficult; p<.001, d=.74), compared to the low ECE group (n=109) who had a balanced focus on positive and negative content. Those in the high ECE group reported that they would be less likely to exercise (p<.001; d=.59) if placed in the situation. Finally, in imagining themselves in the situation, the high ECE group also reported: lower self-regulatory efficacy, lower persistence, more struggle in making exercise decisions, and more difficulty (ps<.001; large and very large effect size differences). Conclusions. This research represents the first investigation of cognitive errors specific to an exercise context. The three studies represent first-generation research. Their purpose was to broaden our understanding of ECEs. Results from this program of research have provided initial evidence suggesting that ECEs may aid our understanding of faltering exercise and nonadherence. If future investigation experimentally links ECEs to poor exercise adherence, then evidence-based intervention strategies could be employed to modify unhelpful thoughts associated with cognitive errors. Future research expanding the generalizability of the measure and construct are suggested as possible next steps to advance this preliminary research.



cognitive errors, exercise, psychology, social cognitions, self-regulatory efficacy, information processing



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)







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