Adolescents' Decisions to be (In)Active: Relationships between Automatic Associations, Affective Reactions, and Deliberate Reflections

  • Author / Creator
    McFadden, Kimberley Inez
  • It is well understood that the majority of adolescents today do not meet the current physical activity (PA) recommendations of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day. In exploring adolescents’ motivation to engage in PA, previous research has mostly taken an explicit approach by asking adolescents to reflect on their thoughts and feelings about PA. This method of questioning, however, is unable to capture adolescents’ automatic associations about PA and their immediate affective reactions to PA at the moment when they are required to make a decision to either engage in or opt out of PA. The purpose of this thesis, therefore, was to explore adolescents’ automatic associations with PA using an implicit approach, and to investigate how those automatic associations along with self-reported social cognitive variables (e.g., attitudes, outcome expectations, self-efficacy, body image) relate to adolescents’ existing PA behavior and further predict their impulsive decisions to either opt into or out of a hypothetical PA program.
    The first study explored older adolescents’ automatic associations between health-related and social- or appearance-related outcomes and PA; and the relationships between those associations and participants’ self-reported attitudes, body image, and PA behavior. One hundred and forty-four undergraduate students aged 17-19 years completed an implicit task and questionnaire. Participants demonstrated a positive automatic association between PA and social/appearance outcomes, but there was no difference in participants’ automatic associations between PA and desirable or undesirable health outcomes. Analyses showed that instrumental attitudes towards PA was the only predictor of self-reported PA. These results suggest that older adolescents implicitly attend to the social/appearance outcomes of PA more so than the potential health outcomes; and that social and/or appearance gains may be key PA motivators for older adolescents as they enter higher education institutions.
    Study two employed a quasi-experimental design to examine whether adolescents’ automatic health and social/appearance associations with PA and their self-reported outcome expectations, self-efficacy, and positive body image predicted their impulsive decision to opt into a hypothetical PA program. Eighty high school students completed two automatic association tasks followed by a questionnaire. Cluster random assigned participant groups received a presentation about a hypothetical PA program that emphasized either individualized, health-focused PA (n = 39) or group, social-focused PA (n = 41). Participants were pressured to provide a rapid, impulsive response regarding interest in participation. Results showed that participants automatically associated positive health words and positive social/appearance words with PA. Participants who received the health-focused PA description were 3.59 times more likely to opt into the program than those who received the social-focused PA description. Furthermore, positive automatic health associations and higher expectations of stress management outcomes predicted impulsively opting into the PA program. These results suggest that adolescents automatically associate positive health, social, and appearance outcomes with PA; and that presenting PA as an opportunity to focus on individual fitness goals and health benefits may help increase adolescent PA participation.
    The idea for the third paper was formed after excessive barriers made it too difficult to pursue the originally conceived experimental text-messaging study with high school students. In recognizing that the issues experienced in the current thesis are common within research, the purpose of the third paper was to comment on the challenges that arise when attempting to conduct quality PA research with youth populations and to explore why these challenges persist. The findings pointed to four main contributory factors: 1) a lack of resources (e.g., funding), 2) time pressures and/or constraints on researchers, 3) difficulty gaining access to youth populations, and 4) issues getting youth to engage in (and adhere to) research. Ideas for how to mitigate these issues were discussed.
    The original research in this thesis showed that adolescents’ positive automatic associations with PA and the affective reaction those associations produce are important factors for whether or not adolescents decide to engage in PA at the moment they are presented with an opportunity to do so. The research further amplified the importance of the PA environment, both social and physical, and the need to identify what environmental conditions are most conducive to PA participation for each individual adolescent. Further exploration of the motivational impact of positive mental health outcomes from PA, particularly PA under ideal environmental conditions for the individual, was recommended.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.