Realist review

Rebecca Hunter, Trish Gorely, Michelle Beattie, Kevin Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


In the field of sport and exercise psychology, the systematic review is still considered by many, to be the gold standard literature review. However, reviews like these, which judge whether an intervention works or not, can leave many unanswered questions. When it comes to complex social interventions, failing to suggest reasons for an intervention’s efficacy, often means practitioners struggle to successfully implement research findings in the real world. This lack of detail has led many to question the utility of systematic reviews when examining behaviour change interventions in complex social environments. Realist reviews are increasing in popularity because they go beyond asking if an intervention works, to look for theories as to why a programme worked, who it worked for and in what context it worked. However, despite the growing popularity of realist reviews, there is still limited application of this approach across the sport and exercise sciences. This paper aims to increase awareness regarding the utility of realist research by offering an introduction to realist review and an explanation of the steps involved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-265
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2022


  • exercise
  • method
  • Realist review
  • realist synthesis
  • sport psychology


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