Preprint / Version 1

Incidental affective responses to physical effort

a virtual reality study


  • Boris Cheval University of Geneva
  • Silvio Maltagliati
  • Layan Fessler
  • Atta Farajzadeh
  • Sarah Ben Abdallah
  • François Vogt
  • Margaux Dubessy
  • Mael Lacour
  • Matthew Miller
  • David Sander
  • Matthieu Boisgontier



exercise, emotion, automatic, virtual reality, physical exertion


The role of affective responses to effort in the regulation of physical activity behavior is widely accepted. Yet, to investigate these affective responses during physical activity, most studies used direct self-reported measures that are prone to biases (e.g., social desirability, ability to introspect). Here, to reduce these biases, we used an indirect self-reported measure (i.e., an affect misattribution procedure) to assess the incidental affective response to effort elicited during a physically active performance in 42 healthy young adults. Specifically, participants rated the pleasantness of neutral human faces presented on a virtual environment while cycling at different levels of physical effort. We used this rating as an indicator of the incidental affective response to effort. Results showed that higher perceived effort was associated with lower pleasantness ratings of neutral faces, with this effect only emerging at moderate-to-high levels of perceived effort. Further analyses showed that higher actual effort was also associated with lower pleasantness ratings of neutral faces. Overall, these findings suggest that higher levels of perceived effort are associated with decreased affective responses during physical activity. These results also provide evidence on the feasibility of capturing affective responses during physical activity without relying on direct self-reported measures.


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