Boland, Alicia (2017) A Natural Experiment that Explored the Beliefs and Perceptions of a School Community Towards Physical Activity, and the Impact of Prompts on these Beliefs and Perceptions. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Physical inactivity is a major public health concern in the UK, placing strain on the health and well-being of individuals, and also on the economy. Research has shown how the environment we live in can shape our physical activity behaviour, and by changing these it may contribute to increased levels of physical activity being undertaken by both adults and adolescents. The Nudge Theory proposes that individual behaviour can be changed by making subliminal changes to the environment, such as altering the choice of architecture and using point-of-decision prompts, however there is limited evidence to date which has established the effectiveness of such interventions. The aim of this research was to explore the beliefs and perceptions of a school community towards physical activity, and the impact of environmental prompts on these beliefs and perceptions.

This study was a natural experiment and involved placing prompts around a secondary school, to explore their impact on the physical activity beliefs and perceptions of students and their teachers. The study utilised a mixed methods approach. Qualitative data was gathered using focus groups with eight year eleven (15/16 year old) female students and seven teachers (male and female) from a secondary school, in a socially and economically deprived area in the North West of England. Quantitative data was gathered using questionnaires, which were administered to measure physical activity beliefs and perceptions before and after prompts were placed around the school.

The findings from this study suggest that prompts may have a positive influence on the physical activity beliefs and perceptions of some adults, as they encouraged them to think about ways in which they could incorporate physical activity into their busy, daily lives. For the other teachers, the prompts had little influence on their beliefs and perceptions towards physical activity. However, they were more engaged as professionals in relation to the prompts impacting on their students. The students, whilst not expressing negatively towards the prompts, appeared to be disengaged with physical activity, and the prompts failed to influence their beliefs and perceptions of physical activity. What was clear in this study was how the school environment was heavily focused around academic achievement, with little attention being given to physical activity. The 'whole school' environment seemed to have a negative impact upon physical activity. The findings from this study suggest that school-based interventions are needed which address the school's physical, social, policy and cultural environment to promote positive physical activity beliefs and perceptions. Qualitative date from this study provided an insight into how prompts may have a positive impact on the physical activity beliefs and perceptions of some individuals, but may be ineffective for others. However, further research is needed to establish the effectiveness of nudging interventions and their influence on beliefs and perceptions towards physical activity.

FINAL THESIS - Boland.pdf - Accepted Version
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