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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Sep;47(9):1913-21. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000616.

Motivation and Behavioral Regulation of Physical Activity in Middle School Students.

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1Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA; 2Department of Exercise Science, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC; and 3Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC.



This study aimed to examine whether intrinsic motivation and behavioral self-regulation are related to physical activity during middle school.


Structural equation modeling was applied in cross-sectional and longitudinal tests of self-determination theory.


Consistent with theory, hypothesized relations among variables were supported. Integrated regulation and intrinsic motivation were most strongly correlated with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity measured by an accelerometer. Results were independent of a measure of biological maturity. Construct validity and equivalence of measures were confirmed longitudinally between the sixth and seventh grades and between boys and girls, non-Hispanic Black and White children and overweight and normal-weight students.


Measures of autonomous motivation (identified, integrated, and intrinsic) were more strongly related to physical activity in the seventh grade than measures of controlled motivation (external and introjected), implying that physical activity became more intrinsically motivating for some girls and boys as they moved through middle school. Nonetheless, change in introjected regulation was related to change in physical activity in the seventh grade, suggesting that internalized social pressures, which can be detrimental to sustained activity and well-being, also became motivating. These results encourage longer prospective studies during childhood and adolescence to clarify how controlled and autonomous motivations for physical activity develop and whether they respond to interventions designed to increase physical activity.

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