Self-determined motivation and physical activity in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Prev Med. 2014 Oct;67:270-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.07.033. Epub 2014 Jul 26.


Objective: Self-determination theory is used as a framework for examining the relation between motivation and physical activity. The purpose of this review was to systematically review studies that assessed the association between self-determined motivation and physical activity levels in children and adolescents.

Method: We searched electronic databases in April 2013. Included studies assessed the relation between motivation (as outlined in self-determination theory) and physical activity in children and adolescents.

Results: Forty-six studies (n=15,984 participants) met the inclusion criteria. Meta-analysis indicated that overall levels of self-determined motivation had a weak to moderate, positive associations with physical activity (ρ=.21 to .31). Autonomous forms of motivation (i.e., intrinsic motivation and identified regulation) had moderate, positive associations with physical activity (ρ=.27 to .38), whereas controlled forms of motivation (i.e., introjection and external regulation) had weak, negative associations with physical activity (ρ=-.03 to -.17). Amotivation had a weak, negative association with physical activity (ρ=-.11 to -.21).

Conclusions: Evidence provides some support for self-determination theory tenets. However, there was substantial heterogeneity in most associations and many studies had methodological shortcomings.

Keywords: Adolescent; Children; Leisure time; Physical activity; Physical education; Self-determination theory.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Surveys and Questionnaires