A Social Identity Approach to Understanding and Promoting Physical Activity

Mark Stevens*, Tim Rees, Pete Coffee, Niklas K. Steffens, S. Alexander Haslam, Remco Polman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


Against the backdrop of a global physical inactivity crisis, attempts to both understand and positively influence physical activity behaviours are characterized by a focus on individual-level factors (e.g. cognitions, attitudes, motivation). We outline a new perspective, drawn from an emerging body of work exploring the applicability of social identity and self-categorization theories to domains of sport and health, from which to understand and address this pervasive problem. This social identity approach suggests that the groups to which people belong can be, and often are, incorporated into their sense of self and, through this, are powerful determinants of physical activity-related behaviour. We start by reviewing the current state of physical activity research and highlighting the potential for the social identity approach to help understand how social factors influence these behaviours. Next, we outline the theoretical underpinnings of the social identity approach and provide three key examples that speak to the analytical and practical value of the social identity approach in physical activity settings. Specifically, we argue that social identity (1) can be harnessed to promote engagement in physical activity, (2) underpins exercise group behaviour, and (3) underpins effective leadership in exercise settings. We conclude by identifying prospects for a range of theory-informed research developments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1911-1918
Number of pages8
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number10
Early online date27 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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