A Review of the Outcome Expectancy Construct in Physical Activity Research
David M. Williams, Ph.D., Eileen S. Anderson, Ed.D., and Richard A. Winett, Ph.D.
Center for Research in Health Behavior
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Background: Outcome expectancy is a central construct in
social cognitive models of health behavior widely used as
provides a review of the outcome expectancy construct and its
application to research on physical activity. Methods: Theoreti-
search on outcome expectancy and physical activity, were
reviewed. Results: Self-efficacy theory, the transtheoretical
model, the theory of planned behavior, and protection motiva-
tion theory differ in their labeling and conceptualization of out-
behavior. Preliminary empirical investigation of the role of out-
come expectancy in understanding physical activity has yielded
mixed results. Positive outcome expectancy appears to be more
predictive of physical activity in older adults than in young to
predictive subtype of negative outcome expectancy. In addition,
a small number of studies indicate relations between outcome
expectancy and other theoretical variables, including behav-
ioral intention, stage of change, and self-efficacy. Conclusions:
to design effective physical activity interventions. New direc-
tions in outcome expectancy research could involve (a) expand-
ing the conceptualization of outcome expectancy to include ex-
pected outcomes of sedentary behavior and affective responses
to physical activity, (b) further examination of potential moder-
ators of the relation between outcome expectancy and physical
activity(suchasoutcome valueandoutcome proximity), (c)dis-
tinguishing between the role of outcome expectancy in behavior
onset versus behavior maintenance, (d) examining outcome ex-
pectancy as a mechanism of change in environmental interven-
tion approaches, and (e) further analysis of interrelations be-
(Ann Behav Med
of American adults do not engage in regular leisure-time physi-
cal activity (1). Many attempts have been made to use theoreti-
cal models to explain physical activity behavior to validate
of behavior change, such as self-efficacy theory (2), the trans-
theoretical model (3), the theory of planned behavior (4), and
protection motivation theory (5) have been especially popular.
Researchers agree these models share overlapping constructs
and are more similar than dissimilar (e.g., 2,6–8); however, a
more thorough understanding of social cognitive constructs is
ity adoption (9). Although much attention has been given to the
role of self-efficacy within social cognition models (10–12),
less attention has been paid to outcome expectancy (13,14). In
ing physical activity behavior; specifically, we (a) briefly de-
scribe the conceptualization and placement of outcome expec-
tancy within the major social cognitive models, (b) review
empirical findings on outcome expectancy and physical activ-
ity, and (c) propose new directions for outcome expectancy re-
expectancy construct to improve the design of theoretically
based physical activity interventions.
CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF OUTCOME
As far back as the 1930s, theorists wrote about what is now
commonly referred to as outcome expectancy (15–19). Despite
subtle variation in terminology and definitions (8,20), outcome
expectancy is generally defined as an expectation that an out-
come will follow a given behavior. Outcome expectancy has
played a crucial role in the development of cognitive explana-
tions of behavior. For example, outcome expectancy has been
theorized to explain the association inherent in stimulus–re-
sponse theory (19) and as the mechanism of classical and oper-
ant conditioning (15). In addition, beginning in the 1950s, out-
come expectancy was a central tenet in expectancy-value
theories (e.g., 16) that formed cognitive psychology’s answer to
ited that, based on past experience, individuals expected certain
outcomes to occur as a result of a particular behavior in a given
Support for this article was partly provided by Grant R01CA79469
from the National Cancer Institute to Richard A. Winett, principal in-
vestigator, at Virginia Tech.
This research was conducted to complete requirements for David M.
Williams’s preliminary examination at Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University. Richard Winett and Eileen Anderson served as
co-chairs on the committee. Special thanks to other committee mem-
bers Lee Cooper, Robert Stephens, and Janet Wojcik.
Reprint Address: D. M. Williams, Ph.D., Centers for Behavioral
and Preventive Medicine, The Miriam Hospital/Brown Medical
School, 1 Hoppin Street, Suite 500, Providence, RI 02903. E-mail:
© 2005 by The Society of Behavioral Medicine.
ory, behavior could be predicted by the multiplicative combina-
tion of outcome expectancies and corresponding outcome val-
ues defined as the subjective value or perceived importance of
an expected outcome (for a review of expectancy-value theo-
ries, see 2,22–25). This basic expectancy-value formula served
as the foundation for the development of several theoretical
models used to explain health behavior, including social learn-
ing theory (18,26), the theory of reasoned action (24), and pro-
tection motivation theory (27).
The subsequent introduction of self-efficacy and social
cognitive theory (26,28) led to a reformulation of each of these
models, reflecting a stronger emphasis on personal control of
behavior through the addition of a self-efficacy component to
the original expectancy-value formulations. Social cognitive
theory posited that behaviors, environmental factors, and per-
sonal factors, such as cognitions, affect, and biological events,
are reciprocal determinants, such that each class of determinant
influences the other two. Today’s health behavior models fit
expectancy remains an integral part. In the sections that follow,
we describe the conceptualization and theoretical placement of
Self-efficacy theory represents a portion of social cognitive
theory that focuses on self-efficacy and outcome expectancy
(2). “Perceived self-efficacy refers to beliefs in one’s capabili-
ties to organize and execute the courses of action required to
about one’s abilities related to performance attainments;
whereas outcome expectancy is the expectation of positive and
negative outcomes that flow from performance attainments (2).
Within self-efficacy theory, outcome expectancy flows from
self-efficacy and directly impacts behavior, with positive out-
come expectancy increasing behavior and negative outcome
expectancy decreasing behavior. Consistent with expectancy-
value theory, in self-efficacy theory outcome value moderates
the effect of outcome expectancy on behavior (e.g., a valued
positive outcome will increase behavior more than an outcome
that is not valued).
The transtheoretical model posits that behavior change fol-
ration, action, and maintenance (3). Individuals move through
the stages in a cyclical pattern, often relapsing to a previous
stage before moving forward. A number of factors determine
movement through the stages, including cognitive and behav-
ioral processes of change, self-efficacy, and decisional balance.
In the transtheoretical model, outcome expectancy is part of the
decisional balance construct, which has its roots in decision-
making theory (29). Physical activity decisional balance in-
with a positive balance leading to a greater likelihood that indi-
viduals will be physically active (30). The distinguishing fea-
ture of the decisional balance approach is the assessment of im-
portance of potential outcomes rather than expectation of those
outcomes. When measuring outcome expectancy in the trans-
theoretical model, for example, we ask, “How important is X
outcome?” rather than “How likely is X outcome?”
Theory of Planned Behavior
The theory of planned behavior posits that attitudes, sub-
jective norms, and perceived behavioral control determine be-
havioral intention, the most proximal determinant of behavior
(4). Within the theory of planned behavior, outcome expec-
tancy is incorporated in the behavioral beliefs underlying the
attitude construct—specifically the belief (or expectation) that
a behavior will produce a given outcome (4). Behavioral be-
liefs are combined with judgments about the value of each ex-
pected outcome of the behavior to form the attitudes construct.
Normative beliefs, which underlie the subjective norms con-
struct of the theory of planned behavior, “concern the likeli-
hood that important referent individuals and groups approve or
disapprove of performing a given behavior” (4, p. 195) and
can also be viewed as reflecting outcome expectancy. Norma-
tive beliefs are combined with individual’s “motivation to
comply with referents in question” to form the subjective
norm construct. Unlike other expectancy-value models (e.g.,
social learning theory), behavioral beliefs, which represent at-
titudes in the theory of planned behavior, and normative be-
liefs, which represent subjective norms, influence behavior in-
directly through behavioral intention (31). Although the theory
of planned behavior allows for analysis of both positive and
negative expected outcomes, physical activity studies employ-
ing the theory of planned behavior have generally assessed
only expected positive outcomes of physical activity.
Protection Motivation Theory
Protection motivation theory, a derivative of the health be-
lief model (32), was developed to explain how health behavior
is motivated by fear appeals (27). Protection motivation theory
posits that people appraise the threat posed by an unhealthy be-
with that threat. These appraisals indirectly influence health be-
havior by increasing individuals’ protection motivation—their
intentions to perform the health behavior (e.g., physical activity
nitive constructs. Threat appraisal is increased by the perceived
severity of the threat and by the perceived vulnerability to the
threat; it is decreased by the expectation of benefits that might
healthy behavior and perceived vulnerability to the health
threat, then, reflect expected positive and negative outcomes of
the unhealthy behavior (e.g., sedentary behavior), whereas per-
ceived severity reflects the importance or value of the threat.
Finally, in protection motivation theory, coping appraisal is in-
fluenced by, among other factors, response-efficacy and re-
sponse costs, which reflect expected positive and negative out-
comes of the health behavior (e.g., physical activity).
Volume 29, Number 1, 2005
Outcome Expectancies 71
A Note on Perceived Benefits and Barriers
A number of researchers working within the social cogni-
tive framework have studied perceived benefits and barriers
specific to physical activity (34–39). Although perceived bene-
fits of physical activity are the same as positive outcome expec-
expectancies. Although both constructs are theorized to impede
behavior (2), barriers are perceived to prevent behavior, where-
as negative outcomes are expected to result from behavior.
Nonetheless, the two constructs overlap in that perceived barri-
ers are often based in part on expected negative outcomes. The
ample, is based on the expectation of feeling cold or wet. Simi-
larly, lack of time or money can be a barrier to physical activity
active would not leave enough resources for higher priority
needs. Assessment of perceived barriers, then, taps into nega-
tive outcome expectancy; hence studies evaluating perceived
barriers to physical activity are included in this review.
In summary, outcome expectancy has been labeled and
conceptualized in a number of ways within social cognitive
models. These conceptualizations overlap, however, and all in-
volve expected outcomes of behavior. In the next section we re-
activity and to other important theoretical constructs.
EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE REGARDING
Outcome Expectancy and Physical Activity
Positive outcome expectancy. Studies analyzing direct re-
lations between outcome expectancy and physical activity are
typically based on social cognitive theory or self-efficacy the-
ory. Among studies reporting bivariate correlations between
to middle-aged adults have shown small, but significant, associ-
ations (r = .15 to .24 [36,40–42]). Other studies of adults (37),
rural youth (43), HIV-positive men and women (44), and over-
ation between the two variables. The relation between positive
outcome expectancy and physical activity may be stronger (r =
.35 to .66) among older adults (45–51), older women (52), and
among generally older, adult diabetics (53). This age-dependent
effect may be due to the influence of moderating variables, such
as outcome value or outcome proximity, which may also vary
with age (see the following).
Negative outcome expectancy. The few studies directly
measuring negative outcome expectancy and physical activity
have indicated small associations (r = –.25 to –.27 [42,54]).
ers to physical activity and has yielded mixed results. A study
among adults in a large community sample revealed a small as-
sociation (r = –.22) between perceived barriers and physical ac-
contributed to the prediction of change in physical activity and
number of months active (37). However, in another analysis of
the follow-up data, baseline barriers did not predict movement
across sedentary, intermediate, or active fitness categories (55).
Similarly, among a sample of Belgian adults, significant nega-
tive relationships were found between perceived barriers and
physical activity among males ages 16–25 and females ages
50–65, but not among females ages 16–25 or 35–45, or males
ages 35–45 or 50–65 (34). Finally, among overweight, seden-
tary adults participating in a study of behavioral counseling in
primary care, perceived barriers predicted physical activity at
baseline, but not at 4- and 12-month follow-up (39).
When specific types of barriers were investigated, moder-
nal (r = –.28) and internal barriers (r = –.31), among a worksite
the workplace (35). Similarly, among university students, a
moderate association was found between personal barriers (in-
cluding laziness and lack of time) and physical activity at base-
line (r = –.41) and 3-week follow-up (r = –.44 ). Among
middle-aged to older women, a negative association was found
between physical activity and 3 of 10 perceived barriers,
namely, lack of energy, feeling too tired, and health problems
(57). In a sample of adult Australians, out of 13 perceived barri-
ers, cost, work commitments, and feeling tired predicted lower
levels of physical activity (58). Finally, among U.S. adults, 6 of
12 barriers were inversely related to physical activity, including
lack of time, feeling too tired, health problems, lack of energy,
lack of motivation, and dislike of exercise (59). Although the
theorized effect of perceived barriers on physical activity is
based in part on expected negative outcomes (see previous
note), more research on these specific negative outcome expec-
tancies is necessary before definitive patterns of influence can
barriers (i.e., lack of time and feeling tired and, presumably, the
negative outcomes associated with them) are consistently re-
lated to decreased physical activity.
Outcome Expectancy and Behavioral Intention
In the theory of planned behavior and in protection motiva-
tion theory, outcome expectancy variables influence behavior
indirectly through behavioral intention. Studies based on the
theory of planned behavior have consistently shown that out-
come expectancy (i.e., behavioral beliefs) has a small to moder-
ate association with physical activity intention (r = .21 to .50
[40,60–65]). Studies based on protection motivation theory
have yielded less consistent results; in two studies some out-
come expectancies (i.e., response efficacy and response cost)
were not found to be related to exercise intention (66,67),
whereas others (i.e., perceived vulnerability) were (67).
The relation between outcome expectancy and physical ac-
tivity intention has also been analyzed in tests of broader social
cognitive theory. For example, in two studies comparing the
theory of planned behavior and self-efficacy theory (40,41),
small to moderate associations were found between outcome
tivity intention even when self-efficacy and other social cogni-
72Williams et al.
Annals of Behavioral Medicine
ciations have been found between physical activity intention
and external barriers (r = –.39 ).
Outcome Expectancy and Stage of Change
Numerous studies based on the transtheoretical model
have analyzed the relation between outcome expectancy (i.e.,
decisional balance) and stage of change. These studies have
consistently shown that decisional balance is related to exer-
cise stage of change among adults (30,70–74). One study,
however, indicated that associations between decisional bal-
ance and physical activity are not as strong (75). This disparity
may be due to the increased importance of outcome expec-
tancy during intention formation (73,76), a process included in
stage-of-change measures, but not in traditional measures of
Outcome Expectancy and Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy theory posits that self-efficacy influences be-
In addition, when outcomes are closely tied to behavior, out-
come expectancy would be expected to explain little additional
they meet their goal of running a 6-min mile. The feeling of ac-
complishment is contingent on attaining the goal—running a
6-min mile—thus expectancy of the feeling would add very lit-
person’s belief in his or her ability to attain it. However, many
outcomes of physical activity are not as closely tied to perfor-
mance. For example, many people exercise in an attempt to lose
weight. Weight loss is certainly not a definite outcome of exer-
cise. Therefore, the expectation that weight loss will result from
exercise should account for additional variance in exercise be-
havior beyond that accounted for by the belief that the exercise
can be performed.
self-efficacy and outcome expectancy operate together to deter-
mine physical activity; however, a small number of studies in
this area have begun to shed light on this complex relation. A
number of studies of older adults, for example, have shown that
outcome expectancy is related to self-efficacy (r = .24 to .70)
and that outcome expectancy accounts for at least some varia-
tion in physical activity beyond that accounted for by self-effi-
cacy (46–52). Studies of young to middle-aged adults, on the
other hand, have revealed divergent results, with some studies
finding that outcome expectancy predicts variance in physical
activity, or physical activity intentions, beyond that accounted
for by self-efficacy (68,77,78), and other studies finding out-
come expectancy to contribute little in addition to self-efficacy
tially attributable to small bivariate associations between out-
come expectancy and physical activity.
ally precedes outcome expectancy (2), others have argued that
our motor capabilities, and that may lead to immediate unpleas-
ant feelings (7,8,20,79). For behaviors such as exercise, in-
creases in expected positive outcomes can outweigh expecta-
tions of aversive outcomes and thus make people more likely to
perceive they are able to perform the behavior. Research has
shown, for example, that when valued incentives are offered,
self-efficacy ratings can be increased for behaviors such as
snake handling and smoking cessation (80,81). It follows that
decreasing expected aversive outcomes or barriers of physical
activity and increasing expected positive outcomes of physical
operates to influence self-efficacy.
Attempts to Change Outcome Expectancy
A number of studies have investigated the effects of mul-
tifaceted social cognitive interventions on theoretical media-
tors of exercise behavior, including outcome expectancy
(38,82–88). A majority of these interventions included compo-
nents focusing on increasing awareness of the potential bene-
fits of physical activity, but were unsuccessful in changing
outcome expectancies (38,82,86,87). One study employing
physician counseling, showed increases in outcome expec-
tancy (i.e., decisional balance) at 6 weeks, but not at 8-month
follow-up (88). Another showed that outcome expectancy (de-
cisional balance) increased among participants in a lifestyle
intervention, but not among those enrolled in a structured ex-
ercise program (84). Lifestyle interventions focus on incorpo-
rating physical activity into everyday life and, thus, may re-
duce the actual and perceived costs associated with more
structured exercise programs. These findings suggest interven-
tions may be more successful by shifting from educating on
naturally occurring outcomes of exercise to creating environ-
ments that produce incentives for, or reduce barriers to, physi-
cal activity. Further ideas about outcome-expectancy change
strategies, as well as other new directions in outcome expec-
tancy research, are discussed in the next section.
NEW DIRECTIONS IN OUTCOME
Broadening the Conceptualization of Outcome
The social cognitive conceptualization of outcome expec-
tancy includes expected positive and negative outcomes of
crease the explanatory power of the construct. Other outcome
expectancy theories, such as subjective expected utility theory
(16) and behavioral economics theory (89), posit that an indi-
vidual’s decision to behave in a certain way is a function of the
individual’s expected outcomes of possible behavioral alterna-
tives. Because sedentary behavior is almost always an alterna-
alization of physical activity outcome expectancy to include
expectations of the outcomes of sedentary behavior. As dis-
cussed earlier, protection motivation theory includes two vari-
Volume 29, Number 1, 2005
Outcome Expectancies 73
ables, perceived benefits of unhealthy behavior and perceived
vulnerability to the health threat, that tap expected positive and
negative outcomes of sedentary behavior (5). Although these
variables have received very little attention in physical activity
research, behavioral economics models indicate that access to
and preference for sedentary behaviors influence time spent in
physical activity (58,90,91). These findings suggest that the ex-
planatory power of outcome expectancy may be improved by
broadening the conceptualization to include expected positive
and negative outcomes of sedentary behavior.
Anticipated affective responses to physical activity repre-
sent another understudied class of outcome expectancy (20,92).
Most research on affective responses to exercise has focused on
the mental health benefits of physical activity (e.g., 93), rather
than on affective responses as determinants of future physical
activity behavior. For example, a number of studies have shown
asrevitalization andpositiveengagement; 94–98), whereas oth-
ers have shown that there is tremendous variability in individu-
als’ general affective responses to moderate-intensity physical
activity (99). According to social cognitive theory, expectations
to support this. A notable exception is research on perceived en-
joyment, an affective response to physical activity (100,101)
that is related to increased physical activity in youth (102) and
adults (42,58,103). Research on perceived enjoyment has typi-
cally used one- or two-item measures that differ from one study
to the next (104). However, the Physical Activity Enjoyment
Scale (PACES; 105) is a multi-item measure, which has been
cially useful because it also assesses negative affective re-
sponses, such as dislike of exercise, that have previously been
shown to predict physical activity (59). Further measure devel-
opment and research is needed to determine the impact of other
affective variables on physical activity behavior.
Potential Moderators of Outcome Expectancy
Research on when and in what situations outcome ex-
pectancy predicts physical activity is also needed. Although
outcome expectancy is an important component of health be-
erties. Therefore, one or more motivational variables may mod-
erate the effects of outcome expectancy on physical activity.
Recall that expectancy-value theory and social cognitive theory
posit that behavior is motivated by the values individuals place
the existing data. For example, this review indicates that out-
come expectancy is a better predictor of physical activity in
older adults. Older adults may value the positive, health-related
outcomes of physical activity more than younger adults, and
therefore the expectation of positive outcomes may be more
likely to motivate older adults to be physically active. On the
other hand, we may not be tapping the positive outcomes that
motivate younger adults.
Despite the intuitive appeal of this explanation, we found
no physical activity research investigating the interaction be-
tween outcome expectancy and outcome value. Generally, out-
come value is incorporated into the measurement of outcome
expectancy. These measurement procedures have generally
taken one of two forms. First, in the outcome-expectancy value
scale participants are asked to rate their agreement with poten-
tial benefits of physical activity, such as “A major benefit of
physical activity for me is good health” (107, p. 538). This ap-
proach includes an outcome value component that is inextrica-
must consider both the probability that physical activity will
lead to good health and the extent to which good health insti-
tutes a “major benefit.” If outcome value influences the impact
of outcome expectancy on physical activity, we would expect
the outcome-expectancy value approach to predict physical ac-
tivity better than measures that tap only perceived likelihood of
potential outcomes (e.g., 36). The outcome-expectancy value
approach has been used to predict physical activity in younger,
middle-aged adults and older adults (50,107); however, the
magnitude of these findings have been no more impressive than
findings from studies employing traditional perceived likeli-
hood approaches (e.g., 36,45).
The second methodology that incorporates outcome value
into outcome expectancy measurements involves the multipli-
of a number of potential outcomes, followed by summation of
the resulting products. This methodology is consistent with ex-
ioral beliefs within the theory of planned behavior (4). The in-
centives approach uses the same methodology but applies it to
self-efficacy theory (68,108). Although behavioral beliefs con-
tives approach has not faired any better than traditional per-
ceived likelihood approaches in predicting physical activity
(40,42,44,68,78). Moreover, some authors (14,109) have ar-
gued that the multiplicative combination of perceived likeli-
hood and subjective value used in measures of behavioral be-
liefs and incentives is statistically unsound, and they have
instead suggested traditional methods to test for interaction ef-
fects (i.e., 110).
Perceived outcome proximity is another variable that may
interact with outcome expectancy to motivate physical activity
behavior (68,89,108). Perceived outcome proximity is different
from outcome value. For example, one might expect and value
that physical activity will help prevent heart disease; however,
the perceived temporal proximity of acquiring heart disease
may be so distant that this expected outcome is not salient and
therefore does not motivate behavior (24). Such expectations of
the positive health effects of physical activity may be seen as
more proximal by older adults and may help to explain the
stronger relation observed between outcome expectancy and
pected positive outcomes of physical activity are less proximal
than many expected negative outcomes (10). This may help ex-
plain why perceived personal barriers have predicted physical
74 Williams et al.
Annals of Behavioral Medicine
activity in adults better than other negative and positive out-
come expectancies. Specifically, personal barriers, such as lack
of time, tiredness, and dislike for exercise, are more temporally
proximal and, therefore, may be more likely to motivate physi-
cal activity than other expected negative outcomes or environ-
mental barriers, such as muscle soreness or bad weather. Simi-
larly, more proximal positive outcomes, such as enjoyment, are
more likely to influence physical activity in adults than more
distal positive outcomes such as health benefits (e.g., 42).
Role of Outcome Expectancy in Behavior
Initiation Versus Maintenance
It has been argued that different processes explain initial
behavior change versus behavior maintenance (111). Indeed,
social cognitive theory suggests that outcome expectancy plays
in behavioral maintenance (12,28). For example, in one study
higher positive outcome expectancy led to increased attendance
at an initial exercise test but was not related to subsequent class
participation (112). It may be that expectations are important in
predicting behavioral initiation, but that perceived satisfaction
with actual outcomes better explains physical activity mainte-
nance (111). Specifically, initially high positive outcome
dermine behavioral maintenance if perceived satisfaction with
actual outcomes falls short of expected outcomes (111). Some
researchers have referred to this phenomenon as the false hope
syndrome (113) or expectancy violation (114). Indeed, it has
been found that those whose initially high positive outcome ex-
pectancies were violated by later dissatisfaction were less likely
to maintain physical activity than those whose outcome expec-
tancies were not violated (114). Therefore, outcome expectancy
when analyzed in conjunction with perceived satisfaction.
New Directions in Changing Outcome
and increasing awareness of naturally occurring benefits of
physical activity have met with little success (38,82,86,87). As
discussed earlier, naturally occurring benefits of physical activ-
ity tend to me more distal (10) and, therefore, may not be strong
enough to overcome the perceived costs. However, a reexami-
nation of expectancy theory offers some insight into how out-
come expectancy is the theorized mechanism of behavioral
conditioning, such that behaviors that have resulted in certain
outcomes in the past are expected to result in similar outcomes
when performed again (15,19). Therefore, to create favorable
physical activity outcome expectancies, it is necessary for peo-
ple to experience more positive and fewer negative outcomes of
physical activity. For example, laboratory studies on behavioral
choice theory have shown that physical activity increases when
it is reinforced by preferred sedentary activities (115) and when
it is made more accessible (91). Similarly, monetary incentives
for attendance at an aerobics class have been found to increase
attendance (116). According to expectancy theory, outcome
expectancy provides the mechanism for behavior change in
these examples of behavioral conditioning (15).
However, it is not efficient to wait for people to be physi-
cally active and then reinforce them for their behavior. Social
cognitive theory posits that in addition to learning from experi-
ence, we learn through the social environment, via modeling or
persuasion (28). For example, rather than simply delivering
monetary rewards when people attend an aerobics class, we
livered once the behavior has been carried out (117). Such con-
tracts can be designed for individuals to increase expected posi-
tive outcomes of physical activity; however, to make a public
health impact we must create the environmental conditions un-
Recently, there has been increased attention on shaping the
environment so as to increase benefits and decrease costs asso-
ciated with physical activity (for a review, see 118). Studies of
activity and accessibility and convenience of walking paths or
fitness facilities, environmental safety, and aesthetically pleas-
ing environments, as well as associations between urban sprawl
and lower rates of physical activity (118). However, these stud-
ies often lack a theoretical framework (119). According to ex-
pectancy theory, environmental variables may impact physical
activity through their influence on outcome expectancy, rather
cess to natural and constructed exercise facilities may be more
predictive of physical activity than objective measures of those
same variables (120–123). Interventions that create environ-
ments in which individuals expect to be reinforced for physical
activity have shown promising results (for a review, see 124).
For example, a 6-month, multicomponent environmental inter-
vention among 1,256 employees in Finland, which included at-
tendance lotteries and more accessibility to showers and change
rooms, resulted in significant increases in active commuting to
work (125). Proponents of this ecological approach recommend
that critical environmental changes be made before attempts at
educational interventions (124).
Outcome expectancy is a central construct in expectancy-
value theory and current health behavior models, such as self-
efficacy theory, the transtheoretical model, the theory of
planned behavior, and protection motivation theory, that are of-
ten used as frameworks for understanding physical activity. Al-
though outcome expectancy is conceptualized differently
of the predictive power of outcome expectancy have been
mixed; however, a number of patterns have been identified.
First, associations between positive outcome expectancy and
physical activity are stronger among older adults than among
young to middle-aged adults. Second, certain perceived barriers
have been more predictive than others, especially personal bar-
riers, such as lack of time, tiredness, and dislike for exercise.
Third, as posited by their respective theories, behavioral beliefs
Volume 29, Number 1, 2005
Outcome Expectancies 75
consistently predict physical activity intention and decisional
by the self-efficacy theory, self-efficacy and outcome expec-
tancy are correlated. Finally, attempts to change outcome
expectancy have focused on educating and increasing aware-
been largely unsuccessful.
Although outcome expectancy variables have shown some
promise in predicting physical activity, much work remains to
be done. Specifically, we recommend further exploration into a
number of new research areas:
• Expected outcomes of sedentary behavior as a predictor
of physical activity (e.g., 58).
• Expected affective responses to physical activity, such as
perceived enjoyment (e.g., 42).
• Further and more statistically sound analysis of the mod-
erating role of outcome value (e.g., 107).
the relation between outcome expectancy and physical
activity (e.g., 68,108).
• The role of perceived satisfaction with the outcomes of
physical activity in determining behavioral maintenance
• The role of outcome expectancy in determining physical
activity beyond the influence of self-efficacy and the di-
rection of the relation between outcome expectancy and
self-efficacy (e.g., 78).
• The role of outcome expectancy in mediating the impact
of environmental change on increases in physical ac-
tivity, as indicated by expectancy and social cognitive
More effective and widely disseminable interventions may
be possible through new technologies (i.e., Internet) that can
provide individually tailored interventions based on important
theoretical mediators (126). However, better understanding of
how social cognitive variables operate in determining physical
activity is essential if we are to take advantage of these new in-
tervention technologies. Further research on outcome expec-
tancy, a central theoretical construct in a number of widely used
health behavior models, is an important step in this direction.
The findings reviewed in this article have implications for im-
proving intervention design. First, increasing awareness of nat-
tive in older adults for whom these health outcomes may be
more proximal and highly valued. Second, decreasing barriers
to physical activity appears to be important. Although interven-
tions have typically focused on overcoming barriers through in-
ered a promising alternative with a potential for greater public
health impact. Finally, more than education and increasing
awareness is needed to change expected outcomes. Environ-
mental changes must be made to create conditions under which
the expected benefits of physical activity outweigh expected
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