Skip to main content


Front. Psychol., 12 January 2021
Sec. Quantitative Psychology and Measurement
This article is part of the Research Topic New Methodological, Intervention and Neuroscientific Perspectives in Sports Psychology View all 29 articles

University Students’ Motives-for-Physical-Activity Profiles: Why They Practise and What They Get in Terms of Psychological Need Satisfaction

  • Department of Social Psychology and Quantitative Psychology, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

Physical activity (PA) is an important habit for overall health and quality of life, but it tends to recede as young adults transition from high school into university. The present study sought to understand, in the case of university students that still practice PA, their motives for PA and their relationships with psychological need satisfaction (PNS) and characteristics of practice regularity (frequency, duration, team, competitive, coach, league, federation, and type of day of the week for PA). Participants were 423 university students who reported to practice PA (203 identified as men, 191 as women, 29 did not report gender), with ages ranging from 18 to 30 years old (M = 19.91, SD = 1.97). Measures assessing motives for PA, PNS, and PA characteristics were completed. Hierarchical, followed by iterative, cluster analysis was used and four naturally occurring groupings of university students were identified based on their motives for PA: one extrinsic-motives cluster (with both extrinsic motives—fitness and appearance—above the mean), one all-motives cluster (with all five motives above the mean), one intrinsic-motives cluster (with all three intrinsic motives—enjoyment, competence, social—above the mean), and one low-motives cluster (with all motives below the mean). Groupings were compared in terms of the characteristics of their practice regularity (frequency, duration, competition, team, coach, league, federation, type of day of the week used for PA) and their levels of PNS (of the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness in PA). Significant between-group differences were observed in the duration of single principal PA sessions, minutes per week practicing main PA, total PA minutes per week, and type of day of the week used for PA. The number of days per week devoted to the principal PA and the number of total PAs practiced were similar across all four clusters. With regard to between-group differences in psychological need satisfaction in PA by cluster, these analyses showed the existence of four clearly distinguishable naturally occurring groupings based on motives for PA, which gives researchers and practitioners the possibility to analyze and implement tailored interventions aimed at promoting PA among university students.


Physical activity (PA) is important in preventing severe health risks (Krishnan et al., 2009; Heath et al., 2012; Piercy et al., 2018) as well as in yielding positive health benefits derived from its practice (Kim et al., 2016; Pacesova et al., 2019). However, regularity of practice has proven to be a critical aspect, closely linked with both aforementioned types of favorable consequences of PA. Specifically, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission recommend that adults practice moderate PA a minimum of 150 min per week, vigorous PA 75 min/week, or a combination of the two (World Health Organization, 2010; Powell et al., 2011). Yet, these standards are far from being met among the general population, as more than two-thirds of Europeans practice little or no PA (European Commission, 2018), and in the case of the Spanish population, 34.4% do not engage in any PA, 38.9% practice insufficient PA, and the remaining 26.7% practice enough PA, but mostly of moderate intensity (Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, 2016).

As a matter of fact, it has been reported that PA tends to recede in young adulthood and in the transition into university studies (Maselli et al., 2018). At the same time, a worrisome decline in health-favorable activities such as physical education (Marshall and Hardman, 2000) and outdoor play time in children (Clements, 2004) strongly contrasts with increments in online entertainment (Chahal et al., 2013). In this regard, it has been argued that PA requires promotion in schools, through facilitation of intrinsic motivation (i.e., sports that are liked by students), teacher support, development of students’ perceived competence, and enhancement of PA values, through the provision of information about health benefits (Ntoumanis, 2005; Codina et al., 2016).

On the one hand, reasons for concern are that higher education itself has been linked with lesser PA and that higher education institutions, in the European and Spanish contexts, scarcely promote its practice among their students (Moreno-Arrebola et al., 2018; Mella-Norambuena et al., 2019). On the other hand, being hopeful is possible, given that higher education is also a time in which healthy habits and lifestyles can be built up (Maselli et al., 2018). For these reasons, it is important to understand both what personal variables drive university students to practice PA (Gunnell et al., 2014; Ingledew et al., 2014; Lindwall et al., 2016; Caro-Freile and Rebolledo-Cobos, 2017) and what contextual variables are associated with this practice, for instance, support from others (e.g., team or family members), or the organization and time frame linked to the activity (Codina and Pestana, 2012; Codina et al., 2020).

Motives for Physical Activity and Their Relationships With Goals and Psychological Needs

Motives have been defined as internal processes that give energy and direction to behavior and may originate in real needs, but also in cognitions or emotions, which may be aligned with these needs or not (Reeve, 2009), such as those present in personal expectations or plans. Thus, needs, cognitions, and emotions share a common ground as three specific types of internal motives, which answer the question why do I want (to do) that.

Following the previous reasoning, according to the self-determination theory (SDT), motives can serve the satisfaction of basic psychological needs, such as autonomy (feeling as the cause of one’s actions), competence (perceiving oneself as capable of accomplishing specific goals), and relatedness (perceiving oneself as not emotionally isolated from others), which are key nutriments for the development of quality motivation and personal growth (Deci and Ryan, 2000; Ryan and Deci, 2017). But, additionally, motives can also serve cognitions and emotions included in personal goals. Goals have been defined as cognitive representations of desired endpoints that have effects on the individuals’ evaluations, emotions, and behaviors; compete against each other; fluctuate in accessibility; and have a complex nature, as they are built on multiple integrated memories (Fishbach and Ferguson, 2007). Goals have structure and contents, vary in abstractness, and represent memory-based desired end states, which the individual is likely to pursue with increasing drive, until it is reached or the costs of pursuit become excessive (Fishbach & Ferguson, ibidem). As regards their value, goals can have both intrinsic and extrinsic goal contents (Sebire et al., 2008); thus, it has been argued that all goals are not created equal (Ryan et al., 1996) and that distinctions are required between different types of goals and their contents, as these distinctions are relevant for understanding the nature of derived motives.

Motives for physical activity have been theorized (Frederick and Ryan, 1993) considering the differentiation between intrinsic motives—obtained or accomplished in the course of practice (Deci, 1975)—and extrinsic motives—obtained as practice-derived results (Deci and Ryan, 2000), and also distinguishing between intrinsic and extrinsic goal contents in exercise, respectively, reflecting an intrinsic or extrinsic value of the desired endpoint (e.g., losing weight, respectively, for health or appearance purposes: Sebire et al., 2008).

Derived from these theoretical underpinnings, an early three-factor measure of motivation for physical activity within SDT (Motivation for Physical Activities Measure—MPAM; Frederick and Ryan, 1993) included enjoyment/interest, skill development, and body-related motives. The enjoyment/interest motive clearly represents an intrinsic motive, as it is satisfied within practice itself, thus, serving intrinsic motivation (which is very much a synonym of enjoyment and interest). Furthermore, this motive also serves the satisfaction of both basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence (Ryan and Deci, 2000), given that people who practice intrinsically motivating activities value both experiencing enjoyment and interest, but also feeling competent in practice (Deci, 1975). The skill development motive also represents an intrinsic motive, as it is also satisfied within practice itself, when the individuals’ performance holds up to the expectations and the level of the challenges faced. Additionally, this motive serves the basic psychological need for competence, by supporting growth and development. Lastly, the body-related motive was theorized as extrinsic, given that, based on this motive, engagement in practice is instrumental in achieving a goal that is an indirect result derived from the activity, and because the notion of body-related was mostly associated with appearance.

Building on these early theoretical and measurement approaches, further developments (Motives for Physical Activity Measure – Revised—MPAM-R: Ryan et al., 1997) included enjoyment and competence motives and additionally a social motive, in this way acknowledging that PA could be prompted by the pursuit of satisfaction of the basic psychological need for relatedness or social connectedness. Furthermore, this revised approach took into account that the goal contents of a so-called body-related motive could have both an intrinsic (building health) and an extrinsic value (looking good to others). Thus, the MPAM-R “split” the body-related motive into two factors: respectively, fitness/health and appearance motives.

Consequently, research using this measure can distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motives and between motives with intrinsic and extrinsic goal contents. Both the enjoyment and competence motives can be considered intrinsic and are clearly related with intrinsic motivation and with psychological need satisfaction (PNS) of the needs for autonomy (e.g., choosing freely how to participate in enjoyable dance lessons) and competence (e.g., accomplishing an intended time mark while running a marathon, or a precise movement while dancing). The social motive can also be considered intrinsic and related with the satisfaction of the basic psychological need for relatedness (e.g., feeling a sense of emotional connectedness with teammates while playing volleyball, basketball, soccer, or rugby). Lastly, the MPAM-R can also distinguish between two extrinsic motives, such as fitness/health and appearance, which coincide in pursuing PA for its indirect results, but diverge in the value (respectively, intrinsic vs. extrinsic) of the goal contents, pursuing, respectively, health-related outcomes versus outcomes linked to social recognition, both based on cognitions or emotions.

Research with the Spanish version of the MPAM-R found that women scored higher than men both in enjoyment and in appearance motives; young people aged between 16 and 24 years old scored higher in the appearance motive than older age groups, and older participants, in turn, scored higher in the fitness motive relative to younger groups; furthermore, people practicing more than 3 days per week scored in average higher in all five motives than people practicing less; people practicing with coach or direction reported higher enjoyment, competence, and fitness motives than those practicing on their own; and lastly, people practicing with friends reported a higher social motive than those practicing alone (Moreno-Murcia et al., 2007).

Furthermore, research with the MPAM-R in active women has shown that motives are associated with psychological need satisfaction, except for the appearance motive (Wilson et al., 2002). Moreover, all five motives have been positively associated with participation in PA, but the three intrinsic motives (enjoyment, competence, and social) have shown the most robust associations with autonomous forms of motivation, whereas appearance and fitness motives have shown to be associated with extrinsic autonomous but also extrinsic controlled (introjected) types of motivation (Battistelli et al., 2016).

PNS, for instance, in school physical education, is supposed to originate quality motivation, which in turn enhances several positive outcomes like affect and intentions to participate (Ntoumanis, 2005). Furthermore, competence need satisfaction and relatedness need satisfaction have been shown to interact, respectively, with achievement and affiliation motives in predicting outcomes like flow in sport (Schüler and Brandstätter, 2013), suggesting that specific motive profiles may benefit most from satisfaction of psychological needs that best produce favorable outcomes at a well-being level through their interactions with already preferred motives.

Interestingly, previous (longitudinal) research on PNS in exercise has found that—somewhat contrastingly with SDT assumptions—adherence to exercise program was associated with reduced perceptions of autonomy and, furthermore, that relatedness was not associated with autonomy nor autonomous regulation (Wilson et al., 2003). This suggests exploring the role of relatedness as a potential promoter of motive internalization, leading to less autonomous regulation. Also, autonomy need satisfaction, in particular, has been linked with the development of behavioral regulation based on self-concordant cognitions and emotions (i.e., identified regulation; Ryan and Deci, 2000), which in turn is consistent with persistence in exercise and well-being (Wilson et al., ibidem). This, in turn, suggests analyzing the ways in which the endorsement of distinct motivation bases for exercise may be associated with distinct adherence behaviors and aspects of psychological well-being (which has been underlined, among others, by Gómez-Mazorra et al., 2020).

Lastly, approaches based on SDT, especially on psychological need satisfaction, have shown favorable effects in the implementation of interventions aimed at increasing PA practice among the youth (Kim et al., 2015; Muftuler and Ince, 2015; Chacón-Cuberos et al., 2019; Corella et al., 2019). In general, these findings suggest the importance of in-depth analysis of the whys of PA as indispensable elements for future intervention programs aimed at increasing PA among university students.

The Present Study

The conceptual and practical overview presented above shows that internal motives are reasons people have for doing things, which may be based on needs, cognitions, or emotions (Reeve, 2009). In the case of motives for PA, it is important to understand if these could predict behaviors of PA practitioners and the outcomes or benefits derived from the activity.

In this regard, it has been noted that it is most relevant to address the question if behavior is intrinsically motivated (Deci, 1975): this is a self-satisfying end in itself; or, alternatively, if behavior is extrinsically motivated, this is an indirect means to an end or result derived from the activity; or if behavior is the result of a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Furthermore, in line with the goal contents theory (GCT, a mini theory within SDT: Vansteenkiste et al., 2010), it is also relevant to address the question if the contents of each goal have intrinsic or extrinsic value (Sebire et al., 2008).

Antecedents of cluster analysis using the Spanish MPAM-R (Nuviala Nuviala et al., 2013) have reported the emergence of three groupings: a first one with above-average scores in all motives; a second one with average fitness and appearance motives and below-average intrinsic motives; and a third one with above-average enjoyment and social motives, an average competence motive, and below-average extrinsic motives.

By and large, SDT argues that PNS promotes quality motivation (including intrinsic motives) and, contrarily, low levels of PNS or unfulfilled intrinsic motives may foster extrinsic motives, which then may act as compensations for low PNS (Ryan and Deci, 2000).

Based on the aforementioned antecedents, the present study focused on three objectives:

• Identifying distinct natural groupings based on motives for PA among university students (comparable with a previous work with the MPAM-R).

• Analyzing if potentially emerging clusters would diverge in their characteristics of PA practice regularity.

• Assessing if potentially emerging clusters would diverge in their levels of psychological need satisfaction in PA.

In a more general sense, these three objectives allow for the discussion of naturally occurring groupings with distinct profiles of motives for PA, based on different combinations of intrinsic and extrinsic motives and goal contents. The study also allows for the discussion of associations between profiles of motives for PA and a) various characteristics of PA practice regularity and b) diverse levels of psychological need satisfaction in PA. In this regard, the present study contributes knowledge about motivational dynamics in physical activity aimed at improving the understanding, promotion, and management of PA participation.

Materials and Methods


In order to evaluate the research objectives, a cross-sectional non-experimental predictive design was carried out according to the taxonomy proposed by Ato et al. (2013).


A convenience sample of 423 university students who reported practicing PA participated in the present study. Among the participants, 203 identified themselves as men and 191 as women, and 29 did not report gender. Their ages ranged from 18 to 30 years old; M = 19.91, SD = 1.97. In order to study PA motive profiles in youth and young adults, 10 students over the age of 30 years old were excluded from the analyses. Participation in the study was voluntary (i.e., participants did not receive any payment or academic benefit, such as extra marks in study subjects or course credit).


Data was collected using three instruments, accompanied by the required demographics.

Motives for physical activity were assessed with the Spanish version (Moreno-Murcia et al., 2007) of the MPAM-R (Ryan et al., 1997). Cronbach’s alphas for the original English (and Spanish) language versions were as follows: αenjoyment = 0.92 (0.84), αcompetence = 0.91 (0.85), αsocial = 0.83 (0.81), αfitness = 0.78 (0.80), and αappearance = 0.88 (0.87), whereas in the present study, alphas were, respectively, 0.91, 0.86, 0.87, 0.82, and 0.89.

Psychological need satisfaction was assessed with the Spanish version (Moreno-Murcia et al., 2011) of the Psychological Need Satisfaction in Exercise Scale (Wilson et al., 2006). Cronbach’s alphas for original English (and Spanish) language versions were as follows: αcompetence = 0.91 (0.80), αautonomy = 0.91 (0.69), and αrelatedness = 0.90 (0.73), whereas in the present study, alphas were, respectively, 0.89, 0.86, and 0.85.

Regularity of physical activity was measured with an ad hoc self-report questionnaire assessing one main physical activity and overall weekly time investment in physical activities. The survey comprised time investment in PA, including months per year, frequency, days per week, and minutes per session of the main activity practiced, as well as total number of activities practiced, total minutes per week, and type of day of the week practiced. Furthermore, structure and regularity characteristics of the main physical activity were assessed, such as whether practice happened in a team, competitively, with a coach, or in a league or federation.


Before collecting data, we contacted the academic office of the faculties whose students would take part in the sample. After obtaining the corresponding authorization for the research, regular course teachers allowed researchers to address their students in the final minutes of the class, inviting them to participate in a survey about university students’ uses of time, habits, and experience. The students were allowed to continue participating only if they agreed to sign the informed consent, participating voluntarily, and anonymously accessing questionnaires on Qualtrics platform via web links or QR codes.

The ethical requirements of the University of Barcelona Bioethics Commission (CBUB, Institutional Review Board IRB00003099) were applied to the current study, which meant that additional approval for the research was not required because the data obtained did not involve animal or clinical experimentation. Additionally, this study complies with the recommendations of the General Council of Spanish Psychological Associations (Consejo General de Colegios de Psicólogos), the Spanish Organic Law on Data Protection (Jefatura del Estado, 1999), and the Declaration of Helsinki (World Medical Association, 2013).


Means, standard deviations, skewness, kurtosis, and normality are described in Table 1, and bivariate correlations among study variables are presented in Table 2. To assess if distinct groupings of university students occurred based on their motives for physical activity, we conducted hierarchical (Ward’s method) cluster analysis to assess the number of groups, followed by iterative cluster analysis to make groupings more precise. We used final group centers from the hierarchical method as initial centers for the iterative method, iterating until the change between cluster centers was less than 2% of the minimum initial distance between centers. We assessed the stability of hierarchical and iterative solutions via Cohen’s Kappa.


Table 1. Means, standard deviations, skewness, kurtosis, and normality for PA motives, regularity characteristics of practice, and psychological need satisfaction.


Table 2. Intercorrelations between PA motives (1–5), characteristics of practice (6–11), and psychological need satisfaction (12–14).


All study variables had non-normal distributions. The motives that received the highest average scores were enjoyment and fitness, followed by competence; in turn, social and appearance motives yielded the lowest average scores and the highest variability (Table 1). Scores for PNS were all robust-to-high, the highest average (with the lowest variability) being competence need satisfaction (Table 1).

Participants practiced between one and nine PAs (M = 1.52, SD = 1.09). Regarding their main PA (hereinafter, PA1), a vast majority practiced it with a close-to-weekly frequency, in average, 9.67 months per year (SD = 2.9), 3.27 days per week (SD = 1.35), 109 min per day (SD = 75), and 274 min per week (SD = 302); total time devoted to main and additional PAs added up to 339 min per week (SD = 381) (Table 1). Most students practiced PA only on weekdays (40.9%), a minority practiced only on weekends (14.1%), approximately one in every three practiced both on weekdays and weekends (35.6%), and one in every 10 students practiced PA without a specific set day to do it (9.5%). To some extent, PA was practiced competitively (41%), as a team (52%), with a coach (50%), in a league (28%), and as part of a federation (28%).

As can be observed in Table 2, intrinsic motives (enjoyment, competence, social) showed robust internal consistency; also, fitness and competence motives showed a positive bivariate correlation; and, lastly, both extrinsic motives, appearance and fitness, were also positively related. As regards PNS, competence was positively related with both autonomy and relatedness, but relatedness and autonomy were not associated. As regards the 15 possible associations between the five motives and the three psychological needs, interestingly, all were positive and significant except for four: competence need satisfaction was negatively related with the social motive, and relatedness need satisfaction was negatively associated with the appearance motive; and furthermore, relatedness need satisfaction was not associated with the fitness motive, and autonomy need satisfaction was not correlated with the appearance motive. Contrarily, positive robust associations were found, respectively, between autonomy need satisfaction and enjoyment and competence motives and between relatedness need satisfaction and the social and enjoyment motives.

Table 2 also shows that frequency of practice (at least once a year, semester, trimester, month, fortnight, week) was positively related with all motives except the social motive, the association with the greatest coefficient being that with the fitness motive. Number of days per week was not related with motives, but minutes per day was positively related with the enjoyment and social motives and negatively with extrinsic motives (fitness and appearance). Also, minutes per week of main PA and total minutes per week (all activities) were positively, though weakly, associated with all three intrinsic motives. Minutes per day was negatively associated with months per year and frequency; in turn, frequency was positively and robustly associated with months per year and minutes per week.

Lastly, Table 2 shows that autonomy need satisfaction was positively and significantly related with all regularity characteristics including minutes per week but not minutes per day and that relatedness need satisfaction was positively related with minutes per day and per week devoted specifically to the main PA.

Fusion coefficients resulting from the hierarchical clustering (Ward’s method) suggested a four-cluster solution (Table 3), and a subsequent iterative step, using final cluster centers from the hierarchical step as initial centers for the iterative step, required only three iterations to reach the stopping criterion (changes in cluster centers < 2% of initial minimum distances). Nonetheless, we tested three-, four-, and five-cluster solutions. The four-cluster solution was preferred over the five-cluster solution, given its greater stability between hierarchical and iterative steps, as judged by its strong Cohen’s Kappa of 0.80 (vs. Cohen’s Kappa five-cluster = 0.76). Also, the four-cluster solution was preferred over the three-cluster solution (Cohen’s Kappa = 0.84) given its greater explanation of variance in clustering variables (enjoyment = 37 vs. 28%; competence = 45 vs. 36%; social = 63 vs. 62%; fitness = 50 vs. 43%; and appearance = 56 vs. 36%). The five motives contributed significantly to distinguishing the emerging clusters, but the social motive, followed by the appearance motive, was the most relevant variable for cluster distinction (see Table 4).


Table 3. Fusion coefficients for PA motives.


Table 4. PA motives, characteristics of practice, and psychological need satisfaction by cluster.

Based on stable distinct naturally occurring combinations of the five motives for PA, the following four clusters emerged via hierarchical followed by iterative cluster analysis (Figure 1). Emerging clusters were as follows: one extrinsic-motives cluster (n = 103), with fitness and appearance motives above the mean; one all-motives cluster (n = 140), with all five motives above the mean; one intrinsic-motives cluster (n = 119), with all three intrinsic motives (enjoyment, competence, social) above the mean; and one low-motives cluster (n = 61), with all motives below the mean. Gender and age did not significantly differ between clusters. Post hoc tests (Dunnett’s t) to compare cluster centers one-to-one revealed significant (p < 0.05) differences in all pairs, except for intrinsic-motives and all-motives clusters, tied for the highest rank in both enjoyment and social motives; and extrinsic-motives and low-motives clusters, tied for the lowest rank in enjoyment.


Figure 1. Four profiles of motives for physical activity (Z values).

As reported in Table 4, practice regularity measures were significantly different between groups. As regards months per year and frequency of PA, members of the extrinsic-motives (9.85) and all-motives clusters (10.16) practiced—in average—10 months per year and nearly once per week (respectively, 5.73 and 5.78, on a six-point Likert scale with 6 = “at least weekly PA”). Members of the intrinsic-motives and low-motives clusters practiced slightly above 9 months per year (respectively, 9.33 and 9.26); out the latter two, intrinsic-motives cluster members averaged = 5.5 in PA frequency (between weekly = 6 and biweekly = 5), whereas low-motives cluster members scored only slightly above (=5.13) the biweekly mark of 5.

Significant between-group differences were also reported in duration of single main PA sessions. For extrinsic-motives cluster members, duration was the shortest (79 min), relative to other clusters, whereas for intrinsic-motives and low-motives cluster members, it was the longest (respectively, 133 and 134 min). All-motives cluster members typically practiced 100 min per session. Similarly, significant between-group differences were reported in minutes per week for main PA and total weekly PA time, but not in the number of days per week devoted to the main PA (slightly above 3 days per week) nor number of total PAs practiced (between one and two physical activities) across all clusters (Table 4).

Among members of the low-motives cluster, only 52.5% complied with the WHO’s recommendations of 150 min of PA per week; among extrinsic-motive, all-motives, and intrinsic-motives cluster members, percentages of compliance were, respectively, 63.1, 75.7, and 70.6%.

Furthermore, significant between-group differences were observed in the percentages of members who practiced competitively, as a team, with a coach, in a league, or as part of a federation (Table 4). Members of the intrinsic-motives cluster reported the highest percentages in all five aforementioned aspects, whereas extrinsic-motives cluster members reported the lowest. All-motives cluster members ranked the second highest in the percentage of members practicing competitively, as a team, and with a coach, and interestingly, low-motives cluster members ranked the second highest in the percentage of practice in leagues and federations (see Figure 2).


Figure 2. Percentages of characteristics of physical activity by motive profile.

As can be observed in Table 5, practically half of the members of the extrinsic-motives and the all-motives clusters practiced only on weekdays and one-fourth of them practiced both on weekends and weekdays; smaller percentages practiced only on weekends or without a specific set day. Contrarily, among members of the low-motives and intrinsic-motives clusters, close to one in every five practiced only on weekends and, respectively, around 10 and 15% practiced without a specific set day.


Table 5. Type of day devoted to PA by motive profile.

Lastly, Figure 3 shows the levels of PNS in PA by cluster. Extrinsic-motives cluster members reported above-average autonomy need satisfaction, but below-average competence need satisfaction and the lowest relative relatedness need satisfaction. Conversely, intrinsic-motives cluster members reported the highest relative relatedness need satisfaction, average competence need satisfaction, and below-average autonomy need satisfaction. All-motives cluster members were the only participants to report above-average satisfaction of all three psychological needs in PA, whereas low-motives cluster members reported the lowest levels of competence need satisfaction relative to all the three other clusters. Post hoc tests (Bonferroni for autonomy and competence need satisfaction and Dunnett’s t for relatedness need satisfaction in PA) revealed that one-to-one between-cluster differences in need satisfaction were significant, except for those in competence need satisfaction, between, respectively, extrinsic-motives and low-motives clusters and between intrinsic-motives and all-motives clusters; those in autonomy need satisfaction, respectively, between intrinsic-motives and low-motives cluster members and between all-motives and extrinsic-motives cluster members; and those in relatedness need satisfaction between all-motives and low-motives cluster members.


Figure 3. Psychological need satisfaction in PA by motive profile (Z values).


The present work has analyzed the motive base of university students in PA and the relationships between motives, characteristics of practice regularity, and basic psychological need satisfaction, with the goal of contributing relevant evidence useful for the understanding and promotion of university students’ health habits in PA. As described in the following sections, the present findings support the relationship between PNS and motives (in this case for PA) (Ryan and Deci, 2000; Milyavskaya and Koestner, 2011; Battistelli et al., 2016). To this regard, we identify distinct motive profiles, which replicate those found in previous studies (Nuviala Nuviala et al., 2013) and confirm that these diverse motive profiles indeed are associated with different levels of PNS, thus, in a broad sense, providing evidence for SDT assumptions regarding the association between PNS and motivation (Sebire et al., 2008; Ryan and Deci, 2017). All in all, our study extends the evidence supporting the existence of distinct profiles of motives for physical activity, by identifying and describing four distinct naturally occurring groupings, specifically, among university students. Furthermore, emerging clusters are compared regarding the regularity of their practice and their derived levels of psychological need satisfaction, in order to help PA researchers and educators in understanding and supporting their subjects’/students’/coaches’ complex motive base in simpler and tailored ways.

From the Four Motive-Based Clusters to the Time Invested in PA

The retained four-cluster solution was stable between hierarchical and iterative steps, it required few iterations to stabilize, and it explained considerable proportions of variance in clustering variables. Furthermore, three out of the four identified clusters (e.g., all-motives, intrinsic-motives, extrinsic-motives) are practically identical to three clusters found in previous studies in the same country with the same version of the MPAM-R (Nuviala Nuviala et al., 2013), which also emerged with scores around-and-above average, respectively, for all-motives, for extrinsic-motives (fitness and appearance), and for intrinsic-motives (enjoyment, competence, social). Nonetheless, the additional cluster that emerged in the present study (low-motives) is theoretically reasonable, given that behavior can originate in internal motives (needs, cognitions, emotions) and in external events; thus, it is theoretically plausible (Reeve, 2009) that some participants may have practiced PA for cognitions or emotions not considered in the MPAM-R, or even compelled by external events and not by internal motives. These findings also dialogue with previous latent profile analysis showing that two out of the five motivational profiles identified in physical education scored above-average only in external regulation (Wang et al., 2016).

Members of clusters with different motive base also reported different PA time investment and characteristics. Firstly, in line with SDT, members of intrinsic-motives and extrinsic-motives clusters reported, respectively, the highest and the lowest (379 vs. 256 min) average weekly PA practice, whereas members of all-motives and low-motives clusters scored similar in total weekly PA practice (357 vs. 360 min). Furthermore, the proportions of students who reached the WHO’s weekly PA practice time recommendation (150 min) were also different when comparing between members of different clusters: four out of five (all-motives), two out of three (extrinsic motives), three out of five (intrinsic-motives), and only one out of two (low-motives). These findings extend the evidence supporting the notion that types of motives for PA are related with regularity of time investment in PA. Regarding PA regularity characteristics, relative to the rest of the participants, intrinsic-motives cluster members reported the highest proportions of practicing PA competitively, in teams, with coach, in leagues, and in federations and the highest proportions of practice reported during only weekends and during both weekdays and weekends. This finding possibly attests to the fact that competitive team sports require thorough coordination for participants to find common available time slots for group practice.

What Is Obtained and Why When Practicing Physical Activity

The fact that intrinsic-motive cluster members scored relatively higher in the enjoyment and social motives then in the competence motive suggests that, as has been theorized, perceived competence serves the purpose of promoting enjoyment and, thus, intrinsic motivation (Deci, 1975), rather than the other way round. In the case of strictly intrinsically motived PA practice, enjoyment could be thought of as an end, and competence could be seen as the means to it. Arguably, the competence motive could be thought of as partly extrinsic (even though, of course, with an intrinsic value), given that the natural outcome of expressing competence (hence, the motivator) could be competence-derived enjoyment. On the other hand, a true competence motive, where being competent itself was the motivator, would depend on a cognitive identification with the goal of enhancing or expressing high competence. This nuance in the relationship between competence and enjoyment could provide an interpretive context for the statistically significant difference in competence motive levels between intrinsic-motives and all-motives cluster members: the latter (regardless of being more extrinsically motived and less competitive) carrying more competence-striving cognitions, but not necessarily being more competent or enjoying more than intrinsic-motives cluster members.

Furthermore, interestingly, both clusters including above-average extrinsic motives (e.g., all-motives and extrinsic-motives clusters) reported the greatest proportions of regular physical activity during weekdays. These findings suggest that the extrinsic value ascribed to PA may be critical for people to consider weekday practice as important as to separate specific time for it from competing typically extrinsic goals. Contrastingly, intrinsic-motives cluster members reported the smallest proportion of students participating only on weekdays, suggesting that PA characteristics integrated more with weekend leisure time than with regular weekday routine and habit. Future longitudinal studies are needed to discern if the fact that PA recedes during higher education is related with weekday-versus-weekend time use for PA (hints are that intrinsic-motives cluster members would be at a greater risk of PA slipping out of their healthy lifestyle during higher education relative to students with extrinsic motives—or with a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motives), given the high demand of studies on weekday time investment.

Lastly, the four identified clusters also showed different levels of PNS. It has been established that PNS is positively associated with autonomous motivation (Milyavskaya and Koestner, 2011), which suggests that mainly intrinsically motived PA could depend on PNS. Nonetheless, the present person-centered approach allows for nuanced observations and interpretations regarding PNS in PA practice, depending on specific naturally occurring combinations of motives.

Psychological Need Satisfaction in Practicing PA

The cluster with the highest relative intrinsic motivation (intrinsic-motives) not necessarily always yields the highest, broadest, or more balanced PNS in PA. In fact, seemingly, the competitive and team-based structure of PA among intrinsic-motives cluster members (mainly motived by enjoyment and social relatedness) allows for a high level of relatedness need satisfaction and a slightly above-average competence need satisfaction, but limits the satisfaction of the need for autonomy (to levels similar to those of the low-motives group). This finding may in part reflect the operationalization of autonomy implied in the used measure, in which participants reported how much decision they had about how to exercise in their reported PA. In other words, participants of league-competitive team-based sports may logically have less possibility to decide about how to practice and could thus have reported lesser autonomy need satisfaction than independent individual practitioners who could decide how to practice. It is not safe to assume that intrinsic-motives cluster members feel autonomy-thwarted just for not being able to change the rules of the sport they practice. Furthermore, the original scale already recommended caution given that the autonomy subscale captured only a portion of the construct’s content (Wilson et al., 2006).

Extrinsic-motives cluster members reported high levels of autonomy need satisfaction, possibly given the fact that their practice was the least coached, competitive, and team-league-or-federation-based of the four clusters. This does not make the extrinsic-motives cluster members necessarily the most autonomous practitioners of the four groups, but specifically reflects their control over their concrete practice behavior, the trade-off being not practicing with others (which would enable relatedness need satisfaction), nor having specific criteria for assessing and socially comparing performance (which would enable competence need satisfaction), two aspects that may be perceived as irrelevant by extrinsically motived PA practitioners.

The all-motives cluster had the most robust and balanced PNS across the three needs. From this perspective, it is reasonable that this cluster also has the greatest number of participants reaching the WHO recommendations of weekly PA. The fact that their PA practice satisfies their three psychological needs in a balanced manner should be a strong base for their intrinsic motives to remain in place, but, additionally, having cognitions and emotions regarding fitness and appearance (as non-need-based motivators) may promote the allocation of weekday time for PA practice, rendering this group the one with the greatest regularity of practice at the same time with the highest autonomy need satisfaction.

Conversely, low-motives cluster members reported both below-average need satisfaction in all three needs and below-average levels in all five motives, which leads to two possible interpretations: either these students practice PA due to external regulation based on external events or, alternatively, they are amotivated by PA and find themselves in a transition to another type of practice or to ceasing to practice all in all. The second interpretation finds some ground in observing that, regarding scores for practice in leagues and federations, low-motives cluster members’ PA practice is similar to the intrinsic-motives cluster, which (given their low motives and need satisfaction) could be due to the external regulation for practice implied in practicing PA with coach, or in teams, contests, leagues, or federations.

Final Remarks

The relevance and robustness of these findings do not mean that the study was conducted without limitations. Particularly, we used an intentional sampling method aimed at yielding participants from diverse fields of study who practiced physical activity. To this respect, it is relevant to mention that the specific characteristics of these profiles may set conditions for the fulfilment of other activities, obligations, or other aspects of day-to-day life, especially during weekdays (in which a majority of students practiced PA). In any case, the detailed description of profiles relative to motive combinations gives researchers and practitioners the possibility to analyze and implement tailored interventions aimed at promoting PA, considering its short- and long-term effects on health. Concretely, programs could be aimed at promoting higher intrinsic motivation levels through tailored activities. About such interventions, it has been argued that, on the one hand, the accumulated knowledge about motivation in PA requires more examples, systematicity, and longitudinal approaches (Belogianni and Baldwin, 2019; Huffman et al., 2020), and on the other hand, there have been reports of positive effects of the incorporation of new technologies in increasing PA in the youth (Wibowo et al., 2020). These evidences highlight that, looking into the future, a joint venture between longitudinal research designs and more highly sensitive measurement devices, aligned with day-to-day lives of the youth, will be important for the understanding of young people’s motives for physical activity.

Data Availability Statement

The datasets analyzed for this study can be found in the Dipòsit Digital (digital archives) from the University of Barcelona (

Ethics Statement

All subjects gave written informed consent prior to the collection of the research data. The ethical requirements of the University of Barcelona Bioethics Commission (CBUB, Institutional Review Board IRB00003099) were applied to the current study, which meant that additional approval for the research was not required because the data obtained did not involve animal or clinical experimentation. Additionally, this study complies with the recommendations of the General Council of Spanish Psychological Associations (Consejo General de Colegios de Psicólogos), the Spanish Organic Law on Data Protection (Jefatura del Estado, 1999), and the Declaration of Helsinki (World Medical Association, 2013).

Author Contributions

RV is the author who conceived and designed this manuscript. He was also responsible for drafting the whole work and revising it critically for important intellectual content. NC was mainly responsible for the research that gave the data gathered and for revising the manuscript critically for important intellectual—theoretical and methodological—content. JP was responsible for revising the manuscript critically for important intellectual—theoretical and methodological—content. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.


This research was conjointly supported by the projects RTI2018-094405-B-100 (co-funded by the Ministry of Sciences, Innovation and Universities of Spain with the European Regional Development Fund), REDICE18-2260 (Institut de Ciències de l’Educació – ICE – University of Barcelona), and PsicoSAO-Research Group in Social, Environmental, and Organizational Psychology (2017 SGR 564; Secretaria d’Universitats i Recerca del Departament d’Economia i Coneixement, Generalitat de Catalunya).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:


Ato, M., López, J. J., and Benavente, A. (2013). Un sistema de clasificación de los diseños de investigación en psicología [A classification system for research designs in psychology]. An. Psicol. 29, 1038–1059. doi: 10.6018/analesps.29.3.178511

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Battistelli, A., Montani, F., Guicciardi, M., and Bertinato, L. (2016). Regulation of exercise behaviour and motives for physical activities: the Italian validation of BREQ and MPAM-R questionnaires. Psychol. Fr. 61, 333–348. doi: 10.1016/j.psfr.2014.10.003

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Belogianni, K., and Baldwin, C. (2019). Types of interventions targeting dietary, physical activity, and weight-related outcomes among university students: a systematic review of systematic reviews. Adv. Nutr. 10, 848–863. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmz027

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Caro-Freile, A. I., and Rebolledo-Cobos, R. C. (2017). Determinantes para la práctica de actividad física de estudiantes universitarios: una revisión de literatura [Determinants of physical activity in university students: a literary review]. Duazary 14, 204–211. doi: 10.21676/2389783X.1969

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Chacón-Cuberos, R., Castro-Sánchez, M., Pérez-Turpin, J. A., Olmedo-Moreno, E. M., and Zurita Ortega, F. (2019). Levels of physical activity are associated with the motivational climate and resilience in university students of physical education from andalucía: an explanatory model. Front. Psychol. 10:1821. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01821

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Chahal, H., Fung, C., Kuhle, S., and Veugelers, P. J. (2013). Availability and night-time use of electronic entertainment and communication devices are associated with short sleep duration and obesity among Canadian children. Pediatr. Obes. 8, 42–51. doi: 10.1111/j.2047-6310.2012.00085.x

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Clements, R. (2004). An investigation of the status of outdoor play. Contemp. Issues Earl Child 5, 68–80. doi: 10.2304/ciec.2004.5.1.10

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Codina, N., Pestana, J., Castillo, I., and Balaguer, I. (2016). “Ellas a estudiar y bailar, ellos a hacer deporte”: un estudio de las actividades extraescolares de los adolescentes mediante los presupuestos de tiempo [“Girls, study and dance; boys, play sports!”: a study of the extracurricular activities of adolescents through time budgets]. Cuad. Psicol. Dep. 16, 233–242.

Google Scholar

Codina, N., and Pestana, J. V. (2012). Estudio de la relación del entorno psicosocial en la práctica deportiva de la mujer [Study of the relationship of the psychosocial environment in the sports practice of women]. Rev. Psicol. Dep. 21, 243–251.

Google Scholar

Codina, N., Pestana, J. V., and Stebbins, R. A. (2020). Fitness training as a body-centered hobby: the serious leisure perspective for explaining exercise practice. Rev. Psicol. Dep. 29, 73–81.

Google Scholar

Corella, C., Zaragoza, J., Julián, J. A., Rodríguez-Ontiveros, V. H., Medrano, C. T., Plaza, I., et al. (2019). Improving physical activity levels and psychological variables on university students in the contemplation stage. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 16:4368. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16224368

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Deci, E. L. (1975). Intrinsic Motivation. New York, NY: Plenum Press. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4613-4446-9

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Deci, E. L., and Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychol. Inquiry 11, 227–268. doi: 10.1207/s15327965pli1104_01

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

European Commission (2018). Special Eurobarometer 472: Sport and Physical Activity. Available online at: (accessed October 12, 2020).

Google Scholar

Fishbach, A., and Ferguson, M. F. (2007). “The goal construct in social psychology,” in Social Psychology: Handbook of Basic Principles, eds A. W. Kruglanski and T. E. Higgins (New York, NY: Guilford), 490–515. doi: 10.1007/BF02333407

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Frederick, C. M., and Ryan, R. M. (1993). Differences in motivation for sport and exercise and their relations with participation and mental health. J. Sport Behav. 16, 124–145.

Google Scholar

Gómez-Mazorra, M., Sánchez-Oliva, D., and Labisa-Palmeira, A. (2020). Leisure-time physical activity in Colombian university students. Retos 37, 181–189. doi: 10.47197/retos.v37i37.71495

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Gunnell, K. E., Crocker, P. R. E., Mack, D. E., Wilson, P. M., and Zumbo, B. D. (2014). Goal contents, motivation, psychological need satisfaction, well-being and physical activity: a test of self-determination theory over 6 months. Psychol. Sport Exerc. 15, 19–29. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.08.005

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Heath, G. W., Parra, D. C., Sarmiento, O. L., Andersen, L. B., Owen, N., Goenka, S., et al. (2012). Evidence-based intervention in physical activity: lessons from around the world. Lancet 380, 272–281. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(12)60816-2

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Huffman, M. K., Reed, J. B., Carpenter, T., and Amireault, S. (2020). Maintenance motives for physical activity among older adults: a protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open 10:e032605. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-032605

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Ingledew, D. K., Markland, D., and Strömmer, S. T. (2014). Elucidating the roles of motives and gains in exercise participation. Sport Exerc. Perform. Psychol 3, 116–131. doi: 10.1037/spy0000004

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Jefatura del Estado. (1999). Ley Orgánica 15/1999, de 13 de diciembre, de Protección de Datos de Carácter Personal [Organic Law 15/1999, of December 13, on the Protection of Personal Data]. Boletín Oficial del Estado, 298(§23750), 43.088-43.099. Available online at: (accessed Dec 14, 1999).

Google Scholar

Kim, J., Lee, S., Chun, S., Han, A., and Heo, J. (2016). The effects of leisure-time physical activity for optimism, life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and positive affect among older adults with loneliness. Ann. Leis. Res. 20, 1–10. doi: 10.1080/11745398.2016.1238308

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Kim, M., Cardinal, B. J., and Yun, J. (2015). Enhancing student motivation in college and university physical activity courses using instructional alignment practices. JOPERD 86, 33–38. doi: 10.1080/07303084.2015.1085343

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Krishnan, S., Rosenberg, L., and Palmer, J. R. (2009). Physical activity and television watching in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes: the black women’s health study. Am. J. Epidemiol. 169, 428–434. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwn344

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Lindwall, M., Weman-Josefsson, K., Sebire, S. J., and Standage, M. (2016). Viewing exercise goal content through a person-oriented lens: a self-determination perspective. Psychol. Sport Exerc. 27, 85–92. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2016.06.011

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Marshall, J., and Hardman, K. (2000). The state and status of physical education in schools in international context. Eur. Phys. Educ. Rev. 6, 203–229. doi: 10.1177/1356336X000063001

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Maselli, M., Ward, P. B., Gobbi, E., and Carraro, A. (2018). Promoting physical activity among university students: a systematic review of controlled trials. Am. J. Health Promot. 32, 1602–1612. doi: 10.1177/0890117117753798

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Mella-Norambuena, J., Celis, C., Sáez-Delgado, F., Aeloiza, A., Echeverria, C., Nazar, G., et al. (2019). Revisión sistemática de práctica de actividad física en estudiantes universitarios [Systematic review of practice of physical activity in university students]. Rev. Ib CC Act. Fís. Dep. 8, 37–58. doi: 10.24310/riccafd.2019.v8i2.6452

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Milyavskaya, M., and Koestner, R. (2011). Psychological needs, motivation, and well-being: A test of self-determination theory across multiple domains. Pers. Ind. Dif. 50, 387–391. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.10.029

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. (2016). Actividad física y prevalencia de patologías en la población española [Physical activity and prevalence of pathologies in the Spanish population]. Madrid: Agencia Española de Protección de la Salud en el Deporte.

Google Scholar

Moreno-Arrebola, R., Bernardo Fernández-Revelles, A., Linares-Manrique, M., and Espejo-Garcés, T. (2018). Revisión sistemática sobre hábitos de actividad física en estudiantes universitarios [Systematic review of habits of physical activity in university students]. SportisIV 162–183. doi: 10.17979/sportis.2018.4.1.2062

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Moreno-Murcia, J. A., Cervelló-Gimeno, E., and Martínez-Camacho, A. (2007). Validación de la escala de medida de los motivos para la actividad física-revisada en españoles: diferencias por motivos de participación [Validation of the motives for physical activity measure- revised in Spaniards: differences according to motives for participation]. An. Psicol. 23, 167–176.

Google Scholar

Moreno-Murcia, J. A., Marzo, J. C., Martínez-Galindo, C., and Conte, L. (2011). Validación de la Escala de “Satisfacción de las necesidades psicológicas básicas” y del cuestionario de la “Regulación conductual en el deporte” al contexto español. [Validation of the “Basic psychological need satisfaction” scale and the “Behavioral regulation in exercise” questionnaire to the Spanish context] RICYDE. Rev. Int. Cienc. Dep. 26, 355–369.

Google Scholar

Muftuler, M., and Ince, M. L. (2015). Use of trans-contextual model-based physical activity course in developing leisure-time physical activity behavior of university students. Percept. Mot. Skills 121, 31–55. doi: 10.2466/06.PMS.121c13x1

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Ntoumanis, N. (2005). A prospective study of participation in optional school physical education using a self-determination theory framework. J. Educ. Psychol. 97, 444–453. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.97.3.444

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Nuviala Nuviala, A., Gómez-López, M., Grao-Cruces, A., Granero-Gallegos, A., and Nuviala Nuviala, R. (2013). Motivational profiles of users of private and public sport services. Univ. Psychol. 12, 421–431. doi: 10.11144/Javeriana.UPSY12-2.pmsd

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Pacesova, P., Smela, P., and Kracek, S. (2019). Personal well-being as part of the quality of life: is there a difference in the personal well-being of women and men with higher level of anxiety trait regarding their sport activity? Phys. Act. Rev. 7, 201–208. doi: 10.16926/par.2019.07.24

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Piercy, K. L., Troiano, R. P., Ballard, R. M., Carlson, S. A., Fulton, J. E., Galuska, D. A., et al. (2018). The physical activity guidelines for Americans. JAMA 320, 2020–2028.

Google Scholar

Powell, K. E., Paluch, A. E., and Blair, S. N. (2011). Physical activity for health: what kind? How much? How intense? On top of what? Annu. Rev. Public Health 32, 349–365. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031210-101151

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding Motivation and Emotion, 5th Edn. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Google Scholar

Ryan, R. M., and Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am. Psychol. 55, 68–78. doi: 10.1037/0003-066x.55.1.68

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Ryan, R. M., and Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory. Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. New York, NY: Guilford Publishing.

Google Scholar

Ryan, R. M., Frederick, C. M., Lepes, D., Rubio, N., and Sheldon, K. M. (1997). Intrinsic motivation and exercise adherence. Int. J. Sport Psychol. 28, 335–354.

Google Scholar

Ryan, R. M., Sheldon, K. M., Kasser, T., and Deci, E. L. (1996). “All goals are not created equal: an organismic perspective on the nature of goals and their regulation,” in The psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior, eds P. M. Gollwitzer and J. A. Bargh (New York, NY: The Guilford Press), 7–26.

Google Scholar

Schüler, J., and Brandstätter, V. (2013). How basic need satisfaction and dispositional motives interact in predicting flow experience in sport. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 43, 687–705. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2013.01045.x

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Sebire, S. J., Standage, M., and Vansteenkiste, M. (2008). Development and validation of the goal content for exercise questionnaire. J. Sport Exerc. Psychol. 30, 353–377. doi: 10.1123/jsep.30.4.353

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Vansteenkiste, M., Niemiec, C. P., and Soenens, B. (2010). “The development of the five mini-theories of self-determination theory: an historical overview, emerging trends, and future directions,” in The Decade Ahead: Theoretical Perspectives on Motivation and Achievement, Vol. 16A, eds T. C. Urdan and S. A. Karabenick (Bingley, UK: Emerald), 105–166. doi: 10.1108/s0749-7423(2010)000016a007

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Wang, J. C. K., Morin, A. J. S., Ryan, R. M., and Liu, W. C. (2016). Students’ motivational profiles in the physical education context. J. Sport Exerc. Psychol. 38, 612–630. doi: 10.1123/jsep.2016-0153

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Wibowo, R. A., Kelly, P., and Baker, G. (2020). The effect of smartphone application interventions on physical activity level among university/college students: a systematic review protocol. Phys. Ther. Rev. 25, 135–142. doi: 10.1080/10833196.2020.1756125

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Wilson, P. M., Rodgers, W. M., Blanchard, C. M., and Gessell, J. (2003). The relationship between psychological needs, self-determined motivation, exercise attitudes, and physical fitness. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 33, 2373–2392. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2003.tb01890.x

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Wilson, P. M., Rodgers, W. M., and Fraser, S. N. (2002). Cross-validation of the revised motivation for physical activity measure in active women. Res. Q. Exerc. Sport 73, 471–477. doi: 10.1080/02701367.2002.10609048

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Wilson, P. M., Rogers, W. T., Rodgers, W. M., and Wild, C. (2006). The psychological need satisfaction in exercise scale. J. Sport Exerc. Psychol. 28, 231–251. doi: 10.1123/jsep.28.3.231

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

World Health Organization. (2010). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Google Scholar

World Medical Association. (2013). World medical association declaration of Helsinki: ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. JAMA 310, 2191–2194. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.281053

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Keywords: physical activity, psychological need satisfaction, motives, cluster analysis, self-determination theory

Citation: Valenzuela R, Codina N and Pestana JV (2021) University Students’ Motives-for-Physical-Activity Profiles: Why They Practise and What They Get in Terms of Psychological Need Satisfaction. Front. Psychol. 11:621065. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.621065

Received: 24 October 2020; Accepted: 30 November 2020;
Published: 12 January 2021.

Edited by:

Antonio Hernández-Mendo, University of Málaga, Spain

Reviewed by:

Ángel De-Juanas, National University of Distance Education (UNED), Spain
Eva Sanz Arazuri, University of La Rioja, Spain

Copyright © 2021 Valenzuela, Codina and Pestana. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Nuria Codina,

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.