Motivational Correlates of Exercise Behavior Among College Students

Main Article Content

Jesenia Nieves
Zachary Zenko


The purpose of this research was to explore the relations between basic psychological needs satisfaction (autonomy, relatedness, perceived competence), intrinsic motivation, attraction toward exercise, and exercise behavior among college students. In this study, 128 participants (including 91 women and 36 men, mean age: 24 ± 7 years) responded to a questionnaire assessing basic psychological needs satisfaction (autonomy, competence, relatedness), intrinsic motivation, attraction (vs. antipathy) toward exercise, and exercise behavior. Frequency of aerobic exercise, frequency of resistance exercise, and total aerobic exercise behavior are positively associated with autonomy, competence, relatedness, intrinsic motivation, and attraction toward exercise. Three exploratory mediation analyses suggest that attraction (vs. antipathy) toward exercise mediates the relation between intrinsic motivation and exercise behavior. Taken together, these data support and extend previous research on the importance of motivationally relevant variables, including autonomy, competence, relatedness, intrinsic motivation, and affective exercise experiences.


Metrics Loading ...

Article Details

How to Cite
Nieves, J., & Zenko, Z. (2023). Motivational Correlates of Exercise Behavior Among College Students. Communications in Kinesiology, 1(5). (Original work published July 5, 2023)
Exercise and Sport Psychology


Bennie, J. A., De Cocker, K., Teychenne, M. J., Brown, W. J., & Biddle, S. J. H. (2019). The

epidemiology of aerobic physical activity and muscle-strengthening activity guideline adherence among 383,928 U.S. adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 16, 34.

Brand, R., & Ekkekakis, P. (2018) Affective–Reflective Theory of physical inactivity and

exercise. German Journal of Exercise and Sport Research, 48, 48–58.

Bugge, A., Möller, S., Westfall, D. R., Tarp, J., Gejl, A. K., Wedderkopp, N., & Hillman, C. H.

(2018). Associations between waist circumference, metabolic risk, and executive function in adolescents: A cross-sectional mediation analysis. PLoS ONE, 13(6), e1099281.

Callaghan, P., Khalil, E., Morres, I., & Carter, T. (2011). Pragmatic randomised controlled trial

of preferred intensity exercise in women living with depression. BMC Public Health, 11(1), 1-8.

Chan, D. K., Lonsdale, C., Ho, P. Y., Yung, P. S., & Chan, K. M. (2009). Patient motivation and adherence to postsurgery rehabilitation exercise recommendations: The influence of physiotherapists’ autonomy-supportive behaviors. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 90(12), 1977-1982.

Chen, B., Vansteenkiste, M., Beyers, W., Boone, L., Deci, E. L., Van der Kaap-Deeder, J., Duriez, B., Lens, W., Matos, L., Mouratidis, A., Ryan, R. M., Sheldon, K. M., Soenens, B., Van Petegem, S., & Verstuyf, J. (2015). Basic psychological need satisfaction, need frustration, and need strength across four cultures. Motivation and Emotion, 39, 216-236.

Chemolli, E., & Gagné, M. (2014). Evidence against the continuum structure underlying motivation measures derived from self-determination theory. Psychological Assessment, 26(2), 575–585.

Craig, C. L., Marshall, A. L., Sjöström, M, M., Bauman, A. E., Booth, M. L., Ainsworth, B. E., Pratt, M., Ekelund, U., Yngve, A., Sallis, J. F., & Oja, P. (2003). International physical activity questionnaire: 12-country reliability and validity: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 35(8), 1381–1395.

Conroy, D. E., & Berry, T. R. (2017). Automatic affective evaluations of physical activity. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 45(4), 230–237.

Diehl, K., Fuchs, A. K., Rathmann, K., & Hilger-Kolb, J. (2018). Students’ motivation for sport activity and participation in university sports: A mixed-methods study. BioMed Research International, 2018, 1–7.

Disabato, D. (2016, May 22). The double standard against cross-sectional mediation. David Disabato.

Dukes, D., Abrams, K., Adolphs, R., Ahmed, M. E., Beatty, A., Berridge, K. C., Broomhall, S., Brosch, T., Campos, J. J., Clay, Z., Clément, F., Cunningham, W. A., Damasio, A., Damasio, H., D'Arms, J., Davidson, J. W., de Gelder, B., Deonna, J., de Sousa, R., Ekman, P., … Sander, D. (2021). The rise of affectivism. Nature Human Behaviour, 5(7), 816–820.

Ekkekakis, P. (2017). People have feelings! Exercise psychology in a paradigmatic transition. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 84-88.

Ekkekakis, P., & Zenko, Z. (2016). Escape from cognitivism: Exercise as hedonic experience. In M. Raab, P. Wylleman, R. Seiler, A.-M. Elbe, & A. Hatzigeorgiadis (Eds.), Sport and exercise psychology research: From theory to practice (pp. 389–414). Elsevier Academic Press.

Ekkekakis, P., Zenko, Z., & Vazou, S. (2021). Do you find exercise pleasant or unpleasant? The Affective Exercise Experiences (AFFEXX) questionnaire. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 55, 101930.

Fairchild, A. J., & McDaniel, H. (2017). Best (but oft-forgotten) practices: Mediation analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 105(6), 1259-1271.

Gallucci, M. (2020). jAMM: jamovi Advanced Mediation Models. [jamovi module]. Retrieved from

Gao, Z., Podlog, L. W., & Harrison, L. (2012). College students’ goal orientations, situational motivation and effort/persistence in physical activity classes. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 31(3), 246–260.

Hagger, M. S., Hardcastle, S. J., Chater, A., Mallett, C., Pal, S., & Chatzisarantis, N. L. (2014). Autonomous and controlled motivational regulations for multiple health-related behaviors: between- and within-participants analyses. Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, 2(1), 565–601.

Hayes, A. F., & Rockwood, N. J. (2020). Conditional process analysis: Concepts, computation, and advances in the modeling of the contingencies of mechanisms. American Behavioral Scientist, 64(1), 19-54.

Lakens, D. (2022). Sample size justification. Collabra: Psychology, 8(1), 33267.

Lavie, C. J., Ozemek, C., Carbone, S., Katzmarzyk, P. T., & Blair, S. N. (2019). Sedentary behavior, exercise, and cardiovascular health. Circulation Research, 124(5), 799–815.

Lauderdale, M. E., Yli-Piipari, S., Irwin, C. C., & Layne, T. E. (2015). Gender differences regarding motivation for physical activity among college students: A self-determination approach. The Physical Educator, 72, 153-172

Lee, I-M., Shiroma, E. J., Lobelo, F., Puska, P., Blair, S. N., & Katzmarzyk, P. T. (2012). Impact

of physical inactivity on the world’s non-communicable diseases. Lancet, 380(9838), 219-229.

Leyton-Román, M., Núñez, J. L., & Jiménez-Castuera, R. (2020). The importance of supporting student autonomy in physical education classes to improve intention to be physically active. Sustainability, 12(10), 1-14.

Maltagliati, S., Sarrazin, P., Fessler, L., Lebreton, M., & Cheval, B. (in press). Why people should run after positive affective experiences instead of health benefits? Journal of Sport and Health Science, S2095-2546(22)00105-3.

Markland, D., & Tobin, V. (2004). A modification to the behavioural regulation in exercise questionnaire to include an assessment of amotivation. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 26(2), 191–196.

Meh, K., Jurak, G., Sorić, M., Rocha, P., & Sember, V. (2021). Validity and reliability of IPAQ-SF and GPAQ for assessing sedentary behaviour in adults in the European Union: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(9), 1-17.

Ntoumanis, N. (2005). A prospective study of participation in optional school physical education using a self-determination theory framework. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(3), 444–453.

Quested, E., Kritz, M., Hancox, J. E., Ntoumanis, N., & Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C. (2021). Promoting self-determined motivation for physical activity: From theory to intervention work. In Z. Zenko & L. Jones (Eds.), Essentials of exercise and sport psychology: An open access textbook (pp. 37-61). Society for Transparency, Openness, and Replication in Kinesiology.

R Core Team (2021). R: A Language and environment for statistical computing. (Version 4.1) [Computer software]. Retrieved from (R packages retrieved from MRAN snapshot 2022-01-01).

Rhodes, R. E., & Kates, A. (2015). Can the affective response to exercise predict future motives and physical activity behavior? A systematic review of published evidence. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 49(5), 715–731.

Rosseel, Y. (2019). lavaan: An R Package for Structural Equation Modeling. Journal of Statistical Software, 48(2), 1-36.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(4), 68-78.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. The Guilford Press.

Samendinger, S., & Hill, C. R. (2021). Exercise schema and motivational regulation of college students: A person-centered analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 54, 101921.

Sebire, S. J., Standage, M., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2009). Examining intrinsic versus extrinsic exercise goals: cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 31(2), 189–210.

Soetaert, K. (2019). diagram: Functions for Visualising Simple Graphs (Networks), Plotting Flow Diagrams. [R package]. Retrieved from

Sylvester, B. D., Standage, M., Ark, T. K., Sweet, S. N., Crocker, P. R. E., Zumbo, B. D., & Beauchamp, M. R. (2014a). Is variety a spice of (an active) life?: Perceived variety, exercise behavior, and the mediating role of autonomous motivation. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 36(5), 516–527.

Sylvester, B. D., Standage, M., Dowd, A. J., Martin, L. J., Sweet, S. N., & Beauchamp, M. R. (2014b). Perceived variety, psychological needs satisfaction and exercise-related well-being. Psychology & Health, 29(9), 1044–1061.

Teixeira, P. J., Carraça, E. V., Markland, D., Silva, M. N., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Exercise, physical activity, and self-determination theory: A systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9(78), 1-30.

The jamovi project (2022). jamovi. (Version 2.3) [Computer Software]. Retrieved from

Thoemmes, F. (2015). Reversing arrows in mediation models does not distinguish plausible models. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 37, 226-234.

Troiano, R. P., Berrigan, D., Dodd, K. W., Mâsse, L. C., Tilert, T., & McDowell, M. (2008). Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 40(1), 181–188.

Vancini, R. L., Rayes, A. B. R., Lira, C. A. B. de, Sarro, K. J., & Andrade, M. S. (2017). Pilates and aerobic training improve levels of depression, anxiety and quality of life in overweight and obese individuals. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria, 75(12), 850–857.

Verloigne, M., Bourdauduij, I. D., Tanghe, A., D’Hondt, E., Theuwis, L., Vansteenkiste, M., & Deforche, B. (2011). Self-determined motivation towards physical activity in adolescents treated for obesity: An observational study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8, 97.

Vlachopoulos, S., P. & Neikou, E. (2006). A prospective study of the relationships of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with exercise attendance, adherence, and dropout. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 47(4). 475-482.

Vlachopoulos, S. P., Ntoumanis, N., & Smith, A. L. (2010). The basic psychological needs in exercise scale: Translation and evidence for cross‐cultural validity. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 8(4), 394–412.

Wallhead, T. L., Garn, A. C., & Vidoni, C. (2014). Effect of a sport education program on motivation for physical education and leisure-time physical activity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 85(4), 478–487.

Weman-Josefsson, K., Lindwall, M., & Ivarsson, A. (2015). Need satisfaction, motivational regulations and exercise: Moderation and mediation effects. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12(1), 67.

Wilson, P. M., & Rogers, W. M. (2004). The relationship between perceived autonomy support, exercise regulations and behavioral intentions in women. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5(3), 229-242.

Wilson, P. M., Rogers, W. M., Fraser, S. N., & Murray, T. C. (2004). Relationships between exercise regulatiosn and motivational consequences in university students. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 75(1), 81-91.

Wilson, P. M., Sabiston, C. M., Mack, D. E., & Blanchard, C. M. (2012). On the nature and

function of scoring protocols used in exercise motivation research: An empirical study of the behavioral regulation in exercise questionnaire. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 614-622.

Zenko, Z., Willis, E. A., & White, D. A. (2019). Proportion of adults meeting the 2018 Physical

Activity Guidelines for Americans according to accelerometers. Frontiers in Public Health, 7, 135.