This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Preschoolers' heart rate and physical activity response to three different motivational climates: Mastery, performance, and unplanned free play




St. Onge, Loraine

Type of Degree



Health and Human Performance


Although people of all ages benefit from regular, moderate intensity physical activity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996) many children are showing less interest and participation in physical education and are adopting sedentary lifestyles (Sallis et al., 1992; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Incorporating regular, planned physical programs, as opposed to unplanned free play, into early childhood and preschool education programs may provide an effective means by which to engage young children in physical activity. In order to develop curricula that maximize engagement in physical activity it is important to identify teaching approaches that motivate young children to be physically activity. The purpose of the current study was to investigate the influence of three motivational environments (mastery-oriented climate [MC], performance-oriented climate [PC], and unplanned free play [FP] [i.e., high autonomy with limited instruction and equipment]), on the physical activity behaviors of 27 preschoolers (11 boys, 16 girls) between the ages of 3- and 5-years-old (M age = 4.5, SD = 1.1 years) and at risk for developmental delay and poor health. The physical activity environment was manipulated according to Ames’ (1992a, 1992b) guidelines for creating a mastery-oriented and a performance-oriented climate. Participants engaged in six, 30-minute physical activity sessions for each of the three conditions during which physical activity was measured via heart rate monitoring and accelerometers and physical activity intensity level was categorized using PAHR > 50. As shown by the manipulation check results, the physical activity teachers created three different motivational physical activity climates. Analyses of the physical activity data indicated that heart rate and PAHR > 50 were not significantly different across the three conditions. Although accelerometer count did not differ between the MC and PC conditions, both conditions were significantly higher compared to the FP condition. Heart rate and accelerometer count did not change over the six physical activity sessions of each condition. Although PAHR > 50 differed between sessions during the MC and PC conditions, there was no clear trend of change over the six physical activity sessions for the FP condition. The results of this study provide preliminary insight into young children’s physical activity engagement during different motivational climates. In conclusion, future research should to be conducted to better understand the impact of motivational climate on young children’s physical activity.