Date of Award

Spring 2016

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

David B Pillemer

Second Advisor

Michelle D Leichtman

Third Advisor

Rebecca M Warner


Developmentally, physical activity levels tend to decline from adolescence to early adulthood. Adolescent physical activity programs have been largely ineffective, leading to a call for new low-cost interventions. This study examined the effects of an autobiographical memory intervention on adolescent physical activity. Over six weeks, students (N = 558) in a New England middle school completed questionnaires and were timed weekly in physical education classes while training for a school-wide race. During Week Three, some students were asked to provide a positive motivational physical activity memory and others a control memory. Students indicated their intentions to be physical active, completed self-reports of physical activity, and were given the option to attend a physical activity session after school. Students in the motivational memory condition indicated greater physical activity intentions and ran faster training runs immediately following the intervention. A marginal effect of the memory intervention was also observed on race day running times. No effect was observed on self-reported physical activity or attendance at the optional activity. This study advances our knowledge of the directive effect of autobiographical memory on objectively measured behavior, showing that memories can direct health behaviors in adolescence.