Public school physical educators have the opportunity to help students understand the importance of engaging in regular physical activity in order to combat America's obesity problem. However, students are often unmotivated to participate in their physical education classes. Providing students with an autonomy supportive environment increases intrinsic motivation. Self-determination theory states that higher levels of intrinsic motivation should lead to an increase in behavior, or higher activity levels in a physical education class. This study examined (a) the effects of increased autonomy on self-determination, and (b) the effects of increased autonomy on physical activity levels. Seventh and eighth grade girls (n = 122) in four classes participated in two fitness units (one allowing choice of activities, the other no choice). The 14-item abridged Situational Motivation Scale (SIMS) was administered pre and post each unit. Pedometers were used to measure step counts during both units. Results of the SIMS data showed there was a significant difference in motivation between the trials for all students, and between the groups (pre and post) during the second unit. There was no significant difference in step counts for all students between Unit 1 and Unit 2, and no difference between groups. The results revealed that increased autonomy in activity selection increases student self-determination, and therefore, should be implemented into the physical education curriculum. To truly determine the relationship between increased autonomy and activity levels, students need to be in an environment where they can be responsible for their own behavior, and where they can choose how much effort they are willing to put into the activities they have chosen.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Exercise Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





autonomy, self-determination theory, physical activity levels, fitness