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Peer Support and Role Modelling Predict Physical Activity Change among Adolescents over Twelve Months


Physical activity levels decline during adolescence; however, some individuals initiate or maintain physical activity participation during this period of life. Socialisation impacts physical activity participation, yet few studies have explored the role of parental and peer processes concurrently on youth physical activity transitions over time. This study examined whether mother’s father’s and friends’ support, modelling and teasing predicted adolescents’ physical activity initiation, drop-off or maintenance over twelve months. In total, 803 adolescents (62.5% females, M age = 13.72) from Dublin, Ireland, completed self-report measures of support, modelling, teasing, and physical activity. Participants were classified as physical activity maintainers (17.8%), low active maintainers (58.8%), drop-offs (10.3%) or physical activity initiators (13.1%). The results revealed that parental support and modelling were unrelated to adolescents’ physical activity transitions, however mother’s and father’s support predicted sustained physical activity participation twelve months later. In contrast, peer processes predicted physical activity maintenance, initiation and drop-off at one-year follow-up underscoring the salient role of peers for adolescents’ behaviour change. In line with expectancy-value theory, the findings indicate that parents and peers represent distinct socialising agents that impart their influence on adolescents’ physical activity maintenance and behaviour change through various mechanisms, highlighting the need to consider both sources of socialisation concurrently in future studies of adolescent behaviour change.

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The authors thank all the students who participated in the study and the teachers and principals who facilitated this research to take place.

Authors’ Contributions

All authors participated in the conception and design of the present study; ML performed statistical analysis, interpreted the data and wrote and drafted the manuscript; EN contributed to data analyses and interpretation, and critically reviewed initial versions of the manuscript; CH performed critical revision of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This work was funded by an Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship and a Noel Hickey Research Bursary supported by the Irish Heart Foundation.

Data Sharing and Declaration

The datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Correspondence to Margaret Lawler.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the School of Psychology Research Ethics Committee in the University of Dublin, Trinity College, Ireland, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Parental consent and individual consent were obtained in writing from all participants included in the study.

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Lawler, M., Heary, C. & Nixon, E. Peer Support and Role Modelling Predict Physical Activity Change among Adolescents over Twelve Months. J Youth Adolescence 49, 1503–1516 (2020).

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  • Parental support
  • Modelling
  • Peers
  • Teasing
  • Longitudinal study
  • Sport