Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Exercise Science

First Advisor

Sara Wilcox


Motivating individuals to live active lifestyles remains a challenging but important public health issue. For-cause physical activity events reach large groups of people, many of whom are not regularly active. However, little research has applied established health behavior theories to explain participation in for-cause events. Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation was to investigate participation in for-cause events through the lens of Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

The first study recruited participants (n=207) registered in a for-cause PA event (i.e., 5K distance or shorter) to complete online surveys that assessed need satisfaction for autonomy, competence, and relatedness; intrinsic motivation; altruism; PA behavior; and intention to repeat participation in future for-cause events. Analyses assessed change in need satisfaction for autonomy, competence, and relatedness from exercise before and after completing the event. Additional analyses assessed the associations of these three needs, intrinsic motivation, and altruism on intention to repeat participation in future for-cause events and PA behaviors. Results revealed a significant increase in competence satisfaction (p = 0.04) and decrease in relatedness satisfaction (p = 0.04). The increase in autonomy satisfaction was not statistically significant (p = 0.25). In addition, participants with higher post-event relatedness satisfaction were more likely to intend to repeat participation in a future for-cause event. Lastly, higher levels of post-event autonomy, competence, and relatedness satisfaction and intrinsic motivation were associated with greater post-event PA and higher levels of post-event competence and relatedness satisfaction and intrinsic motivation were associated with meeting PA guidelines.

The second study assessed participants’ (n=18) experiences in for-cause events through semi-structured interviews. Constructs of Self-Determination Theory, altruism, and intention for PA were applied when coding, with the addition of emergent coding methods to assess additional themes in responses. Participants described their experiences in line with the three needs of SDT, especially competence and relatedness. Participants also described motivations for exercise aligning with identified (i.e., motive to exercise to meet personal goals) and intrinsic motivation (i.e., motive to exercise is inherent in performing the behavior). Responses often highlighted altruistic motives suggesting a potential fourth need in the context of for-cause events. Lastly, participants referred to the importance of a strong community formed through these events. Participants’ desire to join and support the cause helped explain their intention to remain active and involved in for-cause events.

This mixed methods dissertation provides initial support for the application of SDT to participation in for-cause events. These events enlist large numbers of participants and may help reach and motivate those who are not regularly active. This study’s findings support how individuals may initially participate in a for-cause event to support the cause rather than do PA, suggesting new ways to promote events, reach participants, and motivate them to do PA. This dissertation highlights potential leverage points of for-cause events to promote PA, particularly by satisfying participants’ needs for altruism, competence, relatedness.

Available for download on Wednesday, August 18, 2021