A series of three studies published in the Journal of Applied Psychology provides evidence that physical fitness is negatively correlated with deviant behaviors that violate organizational and social norms.
“I became interested in this topic because fitness-related issues (eg, burnout, poor nutrition, etc.) continue to increase globally and are not actively managed in most organizations,” explained the author of the study. study Kenneth Tai, an associate professor at the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at the Singapore Management University.
“This led my co-authors and myself to explore whether physical fitness not only has an impact on oneself, but also on others in the workplace. We come across earlier work in criminology suggesting that physically fit people are more likely to engage in deviance and this idea remains influential even in contemporary discourse. However, this came to our attention, as it is unclear why such individuals would be motivated to engage in diversion simply because of their physical makeup.”
The researchers first assembled a data set on 50 metropolitan areas in the United States using fitness data from the American College of Sports Medicine and data on crime rates from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. An analysis of the data found that metro areas with higher levels of physical fitness tended to have lower crime rates. This was true even after controlling for variables such as the proportion of the population below the poverty line, unemployment rates, median age, air pollution, and other factors.
Next, the researchers examined 3,925 military recruits undergoing basic military training in the Singapore Army. During training, each recruit was assigned a “buddy” so they could help each other. The researchers had each recruit’s partner complete a questionnaire about six acts of deviance, which included lying, faking to avoid tasks, taking shortcuts, disrespecting others, getting others into trouble, and taking credit for others’ work. .
Tai and colleagues found that recruits who scored higher on standardized physical fitness tests used by the military were less likely to engage in deviant behavior as reported by their peers. “A 1% increase in physical fitness test scores reduces deviance in the military by 7.8%,” they wrote in their study.
Finally, the researchers conducted a longitudinal study of full-time employees residing in India, who completed self-report measures of physical activity and ego exhaustion during work hours every Thursday for five weeks. Employees’ co-workers also completed weekly assessments of their deviant behaviors in the workplace. The final sample for analysis consisted of 318 employees.
Consistent with their previous results, Tai and colleagues found that physical fitness was negatively related to deviant behavior. Importantly, they also found that this relationship was mediated by ego depletion. In other words, employees with reduced physical activity were more likely to agree with statements like “I feel exhausted” and “My mental energy is running out,” which in turn was associated with greater deviance.
“The bottom line is that physically fit people are less likely to engage in drift,” Tai told PsyPost. “Furthermore, our findings suggest that people who increase their fitness over time through physical activities are likely to develop greater self-control, which helps them override their urges to engage in deviant behavior.”
As for the caveats of the study, Tai noted that “our study is correlational and future research may provide stronger evidence of causality. From a practical point of view, an important question that still needs to be answered is to understand and identify the factors that can strengthen the relationship between fitness and deviance so that organizations can work on these practical solutions.”
Kenneth Tai, Yuchuan Liu, Marko Pitesa, Sandy Lim, Yew Kwan Tong, and Richard Arvey wrote the study, “Fit to be good: Fitness is negatively associated with deviance.”