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The intention-behaviour gap in physical activity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the action control framework
  1. Katharina Feil1,
  2. Julian Fritsch1,
  3. Ryan E Rhodes2
  1. 1 Institute of Sports and Sports Science, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany
  2. 2 School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Katharina Feil, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany; katharina.feil{at}


Objective Intention is the proximal antecedent of physical activity in many popular psychological models. Despite the utility of these models, the discrepancy between intention and actual behaviour, known as the intention-behaviour gap, is a central topic of current basic and applied research. The purpose of this meta-analysis was to quantify intention-behaviour profiles and the intention-behaviour gap.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Data sources Literature search was conducted in June 2022 and updated in February 2023 in five databases.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Eligible studies included a measure of physical activity, an assessment of physical activity intention and the employment of the intention-behaviour relationship into profile quadrants. Only papers published in the English language and in peer-reviewed journals were considered. Screening was assisted by the artificial intelligence tool ASReview.

Results Twenty-five independent samples were selected from 22 articles including a total of N=29 600. Random-effects meta-analysis revealed that 26.0% of all participants were non-intenders not exceeding their intentions, 4.2% were non-intenders who exceeded their intentions, 33.0% were unsuccessful intenders and 38.7% were successful intenders. Based on the proportion of unsuccessful intenders to all intenders, the overall intention-behaviour gap was 47.6%.

Conclusion The findings underscore that intention is a necessary, yet insufficient antecedent of physical activity for many. Successful translation of a positive intention into behaviour is nearly at chance. Incorporating mechanisms to overcome the intention-behaviour gap are recommended for clinical practice.

  • Meta-analysis
  • Physical activity
  • Review
  • Psychology, Sports
  • Health promotion

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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  • Contributors KF revised the search strategy from the meta-analysis in 2013 with the support of RER. KF conducted the main search and the screening process assisted by JF. KF performed the analyses and wrote the paper assisted by RER. KF is the guarantor for this paper. All authors edited the paper and gave the final approval of the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was enabled through a travel grant by the Karlsruhe House of Young Scientists (KHYS). In addition, we acknowledge the support by the KIT graduate school Cultures of Knowledge (CuKnow).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.