Study finds awareness of low intensity stimulation is linked to heightened physical activity in adults

New research published in the Journal of Research in Personality provides evidence that temperament plays a role in explaining physical activity in adulthood.

“We felt that research on the relationship between personality traits and physical activity in adulthood lacked one essential developmental element: temperament,” said study author Jenni Karvonen, a doctoral student at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

Temperament refers to a set of relatively stable dispositions. Temperament and experiences together form personality traits, which have already been shown to be one of the key factors associated with adult physical activity.

“Temperament and physical activity had already been studied in childhood and adolescence, but we wanted to expand this knowledge into adulthood and investigate whether dispositional factors still contribute to physical activity in a later phase of life,” Karvonen said.

The researchers examined data from more than 200 participants in the ongoing Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development, which was launched in 1968. The participants’ temperament and personality characteristics were assessed at age 42, and their physical activity was assessed at age 50.

Orienting sensitivity, meaning the the tendency to be conscious of low intensity stimuli from the environment, was linked to physical activity among both men and women. People who score high on a measure of orienting sensitivity agree with statements such as “I am often consciously aware of how the weather seems to affect my mood” and “I often notice visual details in the environment.”

“In our study, women who were sensitive to the various details of the environment and its contribution to their affective states tended to exercise more often during free time,” Karvonen explained. “This so-called orienting sensitivity was also linked to more frequent engagement in vigorous physical activity and increased odds for exercising in nature in men.”

“It is possible that awareness of extraneous low intensity stimulation, which characterizes individuals who score high in Orienting sensitivity, leads these individuals to experience physical activity-related physical responses as particularly pleasant or satisfying, which in turn encourages them to exercise more frequently.” the researchers wrote in their study.

Men prone to feeling negative emotional states, such as frustration or discomfort, on the other hand, were less likely to be less physically active.

“Our results suggest that at least some of our physical activity as adults is already determined by biological factors at birth. Recognizing one’s own characteristic ways to react might help in the search of the most fitting way to be physically active,” Karvonen told PsyPost.

“Given that our results regarding adult temperament and physical activity are first of their kind, replicating them with larger samples and different populations is evidently called for. Based on our findings, it could be beneficial for future research in this field to take a closer look at gender-specific differences and lower order traits both on temperament and personality.”

The study, “Associations of temperament and personality traits with frequency of physical activity in adulthood“, was authored by Jenni Karvonena, Timo Törmäkangas, Lea Pulkkinen, and Katja Kokko.