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B.C. psychology student investigating how your circle motivates exercise

Derek LeBaron seeking more participants to help him with his research
Research assistant Andrew Szilogyi whips up some wind on a stationary air-resistance bike while psychology student Derek LeBaron enters notes on his laptop computer at Vancouver Island University. LeBaron is researching how various forms of social support impact exercise performance. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A psychology student at Vancouver Island University is looking for subjects to take part in research exploring the effects of relationships on exercise.

Derek LeBaron, a fourth-year psychology student working on his undergraduate honours thesis, is conducting a social support and exercise study to determine how various kinds and qualities of social relationships impact overall exercise performance.

“What’s cool about this study,” LeBaron said, “is people can bring a friend, a partner, loved one, family member, colleague, whoever they choose, to the study and see how social support from that person either increases or decreases exercise performance.”

He and his girlfriend normally train at the gym together, but during a period they weren’t able to work out together, she noticed she had less motivation to train.

“She trains hard and she sent me a text one day. She was, like, I went to the gym and I really wish we were going together. I’m motivated more when I go with you … That got me curious about seeing how romantic relationships and relationships with close others, how that influences exercise performance, exercise adherence – and there’s a decent amount of literature on that – so that’s what motivated this study,” LeBaron said.

But he soon found he needed to expand the study parameters beyond intimate partner, close others and best friends relationships, because potential study participants found it difficult to schedule the in-person exercise sessions into their days.

“Basically, I just put it to any and all relationships. So whether it’s friendships, family members, classmates, colleagues, anything,” he said.

The exercise performance data collected from the study’s participants is based, in part, on how they perform while pedalling a stationary air resistance exercise bike.

LeBaron isn’t ready to reveal what he’s learned so far. There are a number of variables the study looks at, but giving away the details of the research could potentially skew data gathered from future participants.

“What people do know is that they’re coming in here and they’re engaging in two bouts of exercise and they know there’s some version of social support,” LeBaron said. “So, I have people sign a consent form and it basically lets them know that they’ll be exercising and they’ll be moderated by forms of social support.”

He started the study with his research assistant, psychology student Andrew Szilogyi, in January and said he needs to gather data from as many study participants as possible until the data collection portion of the research closes in mid March.

The research findings will be presented at VIU’s Create conference, which showcases student research and creativity projects in April, but LeBaron also hopes to present the study’s results farther afield and he and Szilogyi have applied to be part of the Canadian Psychological Association Convention in Ottawa this year.

LeBaron said he will ultimately work toward a doctorate in counselling, clinical or social psychology.

“My dream was always having my own practice and counselling people, but there’s a part of research I love too, so I may do both,” he said.

Szilogyi said he is working toward becoming an industrial organizational psychologist.

With the study nearing its close, LeBaron is looking to draw in as many participants as possible. So far, 20 subjects have participated, but he would like to double that figure.

To learn more about or to participate in the study, visit or e-mail

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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