Aerobic Exercise + Spandex = Love potion made in heaven?


Hopeless romantics would probably disagree with the aforementioned formula. What could love- a passionate, spectacular experience that makes many individuals think of candle lit dinners and moonlit walks- have to do with exercise in a gym? Realistically speaking though, the feelings you experience during your gym workout are quite similar to those you experience when you are attracted to, or in love with someone (*see Peter Salovey’s lecture on love, link pasted below article). A run on the treadmill is likely to make your heart beat as fast as when you first held your partner’s hand. This is because while the root causes of arousal in these two situations are different, the physiological reactions experienced during both are similar.

In 1974, Arthur Aron and Donald Dutton conducted a classic experiment in British Columbia. In what was later referred to as the ‘Rickety Bridge experiment’, one group of men were asked to walk on an arousal-inducing, narrow bridge-


Another group was asked to walk on a stable bridge. In both conditions, participants were met by an attractive woman at the end of the bridge, who requested each man to fill out a survey. She then gave them her number to call in case they had ‘further questions’ regarding the survey. It was found that the men who walked on the narrow, rickety bridge were more likely to call the woman later, to ask her out on a date! Aron and Dutton’s explanation for the men’s behaviour is based on Schachter and Singer’s (1962) two factor theory of emotion which states that “people search the immediate environment for emotionally relevant cues to label and interpret unexplained physiological arousal” (Cotton, 1981). Physiological activity caused by one source can often be misattributed as being caused by another source. The pounding heartbeats and sweaty palms that participants experienced while on the rickety bridge are similar to what is experienced when one person is attracted to another. In this case, the source of the misattributed feelings was the attractive woman.

Perfume/deodorant/hair gel and related brands often use attractive models in their advertising. It can be predicted that for these products, the brands that advertise the most on sports channels would probably benefit more than others, as sports channels are often the default channels aired in gyms and sports centers (where levels of physiological arousal are high). Consumption of caffeine also causes arousal by increasing heart rate and these adverts are likely to be effective when viewed in a coffee shop, or if they are aired at a time when caffeine consumption typically peaks (be it the morning coffee ritual or the nightcap).

“Arousal can make judgments of positive objects more positive and of negative objects more negative” (Storbeck & Clore, 2008, p. 1837).

“Consumers’ responses to a given object—for instance, an ad—may be more extreme or polarized if the consumers have been recently aroused” (Gorn, Pham & Sin, 2001 p 44)-

Arousal intensifies/polarizes feelings that are already generated by a target (Gorn et al., 1991). White, Fishbein, and Rutstein (1981) found that when arousal was induced through physical exercise, male participant’s liking towards a female target subsequently increased. In the context of advertisements, arousal is likely to heighten positive feelings towards an ad that already elicits positive emotions. If arousal polarizes emotions, advertisements that use attractive models would generate stronger positive responses when the viewers are in a physiologically aroused state. The increased heart rate and sweaty palms experienced whilst running on the treadmill will predictably make them perceive the model in the advert as being more attractive, than if they were exposed to it in a less physically aroused state. As a result, the attractive model is likely to be associated with the brand/product and therefore this should indirectly generate positive feelings towards the brand.

Arousal can also polarize negative feelings and this insight can be used by charities/activists to raise awareness on issues such as animal abuse, human trafficking and so on. When in a physiologically aroused state, viewing disturbing images of animals being killed for fur can make an animal lover even angrier (perhaps motivating them to sign a petition) than when they viewed the same images in a less aroused state. The fact that arousal polarizes emotions can perhaps also be used to explain why football fans’ aggression and violence intensifies during/after a game, as well as mob behaviour. My advice for the next time you have a stinker with your spouse – hide his/her gym gear and the house’s supply of coffee.

*The formula that forms the title of this article was taken (and altered a little bit) from this neat lecture by Yale’s Peter Salovey


Baron, R.S. Sexual Content and Advertising Effectiveness: Comments on Belch Et Al. (1981) and Caccavale Et Al. (1981) Dutton, D. & Aron, A. (1974).

Some evidence for heightened sexual arousal under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 510-517.

Gorn, Pham & Sin (2001).When Arousal Influences Ad Evaluation and Valence Does Not (and Vice Versa). Journal of Consumer Psychology, 11(1), 43–55.


4 thoughts on “Aerobic Exercise + Spandex = Love potion made in heaven?

  1. sowpharneka

    this post was highly informative.. on people.. how they behave “predictably irrational” during times of arousal and how we can channelize this in a positive manner!

  2. tejaswisubramanian

    Ad men have perhaps known theses truths intuitively all along. Semantics and neuro-linguistic programming have been used widely ever since Bernays, and of late, the academic community’s research seems to support it as well.
    You might find Adam Curtis’ documentary, ‘The Century of the Self’ interesting, if you haven’t watched it already. 🙂 Looking forward to more posts from ya!

  3. Pingback: Aerobic Exercise + Spandex = Love potion made i...

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