Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Nicole Zarrett

Abstract

Early adolescence is a developmental phase accompanied by several changes occurring in various biopsychosocial domains, associated with an increased vulnerability to mental and physical health problems. Youth of minority status and/or low socio- economic status have been shown to be more susceptible, as they are more likely to incur greater exposure to stressors accordingly. Coincidently, as psychological problems emerge such as internalizing disorders, physical activity engagement declines; those trends seem to persist into adulthood and have been associated with numerous negative health outcomes. Evidence points to the direct impact of physical activity, as well as, social variables such as social support and climate, on decreasing internalizing symptoms. However, there is a dearth of empirical studies particularly measuring both physical activity and social variables simultaneously within after-school based interventions in adolescent populations, specifically of minority and low socio-economic status. This study aimed to examine non-targeted effects of Connect Through P.L.A.Y., an after school based randomized controlled feasibility trial designed to increase physical activity engagement by positively impacting social and motivational factors identified to be conducive for physical activity. The current study tested the Connect Through P.L.A.Y. intervention effects on internalizing symptoms on a sample of underserved adolescents (N = 138, M age = 12.18 years; 55% female and 74% African- American). Five subsequent regression analyses were performed to investigate underlying mechanisms potentially contributing to intervention effects. Four additional regression models were carried out to explore interaction effects of the change in each social factor with change in physical activity in predicting change in internalizing features. Results indicated that participants in the intervention condition experienced a significant decrease in internalizing symptoms post-intervention. Analyses examining main effects of changes in physical activity, and social factors including social support for physical activity, peer climate, observed positive peer interactions and observed inclusive climate were not found to singularly predict change in internalizing symptoms. Although this finding needs to be interpreted with caution, only one interaction model was supported. Change in observed inclusive climate interacted with change in physical activity to predict change in internalizing symptoms; participants who were engaged in more than average moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and experienced a positive change in inclusive climate seemed to have experienced a more significant decrease in internalizing symptoms than others. Hence, further research is needed to identify mechanisms within interventions, which most strongly contribute to wellbeing in underserved minority adolescent populations, in order to provide more cost-effective after-school programs.

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