Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In the United States (US), a majority of adults do not meet the recommended guides of physical activity despite the many benefits. One benefit of activity is the reduction of anxiety. Although there is robust evidence demonstrating the anxiolytic effects of physical activity, the mechanism is not fully understood. Some psychological explanations are related to a lack of confidence in one’s ability. Because of this, Achievement Goal Theory (AGT) may be a viable framework to explain the anxiolytic effects of physical activity. The focus of this dissertation is to examine the efficacy of AGT as a mechanism and to explore settings and sources of anxiety that may prevent individuals from being active.

The first study employed a correlational design, and the focus was to investigate the relationships among concepts of AGT, perceived competence, competence valuation, and state anxiety and how the interactions among these constructs affect future participation. College students (N=531) enrolled in activity classes completed surveys related to these constructs. Based on the results of this study, AGT is a suitable framework to explain how activity can reduce anxiety. Regarding state anxiety, climate is important to consider, and instructors should create mastery-approach climates to reduce symptoms of anxiety. To increase intentions to participate, competence valuation was the best predictor. The results from this study reveal the importance of promoting an environment that is supportive to one’s needs and to encourage self-referenced goals.

The second study used the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) via an electronically delivered questionnaire on a sample of college students (N=122). The focus of this study was to examine physical activity settings that invoke anxiety and to target sources of anxiety within these settings. The settings individuals perceived as anxiety-producing included sport, credit-based classes, and leisure-time activity settings such as workout facilities. The core, underlying source of anxiety in all settings was fragile self-beliefs.

The findings from this study confirm AGT as a framework to guide the investigation of the relationship between anxiety in physical activity. These studies demonstrate the importance of creating supportive environments to reduce anxiety and increase future participation in physical activity.



Committee Chair

Solmon, Melinda