Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology



First Advisor

Karen A. Christoff

Second Advisor

Mark Loftin

Third Advisor

Scott A. Gustafson

Relational Format



Child obesity rates have reached an all-time high in the United States with rates quadrupling since 1963 for children ages 2-5 (Fryar, Caroll, & Ogden, 2012). This has led to increased research directed toward understanding the causes of this proliferation. The literature shows that several key variables, including physical activity level, diet, and health education are related to childhood obesity (Epstein, 2005; Trost, et al., 2003). In the realm of physical activity level, many interventions have been proposed and conducted with varying degrees of success. Only few have attempted to impact the physical activity level of children in free play, probably due to the complex nature of free play periods. In addition, activity preference is an important but often neglected aspect of free play since choice complicates the ability to influence physical activity level. The current study describes an intervention that attempted to increase physical activity level as well as determine if activity preference changes as a result of providing reinforcement for physical activity. Using behavior modification techniques associated with a classroom token economy, preschoolers' moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on the playground was reinforced in attempt to influence both level of physical activity and activity preference. Also, in order to better understand the importance of peer influences on activity, sociometric interviews were conducted with the children before, during, and after the intervention. Accelerometers were used on the playground throughout the study to determine both which children were physically more or less active, and to measure any increase or decrease in level of physical activity. Several statistical tests were used to determine significant differences between mean activity level at pre-, during, and post-intervention, and sociometric interview data were analyzed for relationships among sociometric variables and activity levels. Results regarding the effectiveness of the intervention were inconclusive, as 50% of participants did not respond and the other 50% significantly increased their activity levels on the playground. Conclusions based on findings suggest a need for closer control of the magnitude and quality of reinforcement in order to increase response rate and that reinforcement-based intervention could be useful on playgrounds in equipment poor environments.


Emphasis: Clinical Psychology

Included in

Psychology Commons



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