John Bird Thesis Final_2.pdf (1.61 MB)

An investigation into the role of self-control and self-regulation processes in endurance exercise performance

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posted on 17.08.2021, 10:39 by John Bird
Self-control is a complex topic in psychology and has been the subject of significant debate in recent years. This thesis presents four studies designed to investigate a variety of factors relevant to self-control in the context of endurance exercise. The propensity of self-control to diminish with use has been under critical investigation, and the precise mechanisms through which depletion occurs in different situations remain unclear. In endurance exercise, individuals generally regulate their effort through their experience of perceived exertion and affect, however the degree to which this is influenced by differing motivational stimuli and contexts has not been adequately investigated. Additionally, given the ideographic nature of self-control, the role of individual differences has yet to be fully appreciated, particularly with respect to the personal meaning ascribed to self-control tasks. At a fundamental level, core psychological experiences also differ between individuals, and appear likely to play an important role in the process of self-control.
Following a literature review in the first chapter, Chapter Two investigated whether the depletion of self-control could be produced through different pathways depending on the particular demands of the depleting task. Following this, Chapter Three examined whether the valence of performance feedback would alter the processes through which cyclists pace their effort expenditure during an endurance time trial. Moving towards a focus on the role of individual differences in the process of self-control, Chapter Four investigated the role of task identity relevance on endurance exercise performance. Chapter Five examined core psychological experiences (i.e., individuals’ sense of agency, strength of identity, and causal attributions) and their perceived impact on active self-control strategies during endurance running. Lastly, Chapter Six discusses the main findings and implications of the thesis, and highlights areas for further research.
The findings of this thesis indicate that attempts to replicate the depletion of self-control may be undermined by conflicting impacts of different pathways, with prior tasks simultaneously increasing and decreasing the chances of future self-control success. The relationship between perceived exertion and endurance exercise performance is variable depending on the exercise context. The identity relevance of a self-control task is an important determinant of self-control success, with an increase in the personal relevance of an endurance task producing greater performance. Lastly, the use of self-control strategies during an exercise bout is dependent on an individual’s sense of agency, with a high positive sense of agency, and low negative sense of agency beneficial for self-control.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


Loughborough University

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© John Bird

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A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.




Ian Taylor

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