The Effect of Increasing Autonomy Through Choice on Young Children’s Physical Activity Behavior

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Increasing autonomy by manipulating the choice of available physical activity options in a laboratory setting can increase physical activity in older children and adults. However, the effect of manipulating the number of physically active choices has yet to be examined in young children in a gymnasium environment.


Twenty children (n = 10 girls, 6.1 ± 1.4 years old) individually participated in 2 [low choice (LC), high choice (HC)] free-choice activity conditions for 30 minutes in a 4360 square foot gymnasium. Children had access to 2 or 8 physical activity options in the LC and HC conditions, respectively. Physical activity behavior was measured via accelerometry.


Children’s 30-minute accelerometer counts increased (P < .03) from the LC (2675 ± 294 counts·min-1) to the HC (3224 ± 280 counts·min-1) condition.


Providing greater autonomy through choice of a greater number of physically active options increased young children’s physical activity participation by 20.5%.

Sanders ( is with the Dept of Kinesiology and Health, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY. Juvancic-Heltzel is with the Dept of Exercise Science, University of Akron, Akron, OH. Williamson is with the Dept of Lifespan Development and Educational Sciences, Kent State University, Kent, OH. Roemmich is with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS-PA), Grand Forks, ND. Feda is with the Dept of Exercise Science, University of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY. Barkley is with the School of Exercise Leisure and Sport, Kent State University, Kent, OH.