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The Effect of Physical Activity on Student Performance in College
Last registered on May 19, 2017

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
The Effect of Physical Activity on Student Performance in College
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0002223
Initial registration date
May 19, 2017
Last updated
May 19, 2017 6:04 PM EDT
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of Munich
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Stanford University
PI Affiliation
University of St. Gallen
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2013-08-01
End date
2015-05-31
Secondary IDs
Abstract
This project analyzes the effects of on-campus recreational sports and exercise on educational outcomes of university students. To identify causal effects, we randomize financial incentives to encourage students’ participation in on-campus sports and exercise. The incentives increased participation frequency by 0.26 times per week (47%) and improved grades by 0.14 standard deviations. This effect is primarily driven by male students and students at higher quantiles of the grade distribution. Results from survey data suggest that students substitute off-campus with on-campus physical activities during the day but do not significantly increase the overall frequency. Our findings suggest that students spend more time on campus and are better able to integrate studying and exercising, which may enhance the effectiveness of studying and thus improve student performance.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Fricke, Hans, Michael Lechner and Andreas Steinmayr. 2017. "The Effect of Physical Activity on Student Performance in College." AEA RCT Registry. May 19. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2223-1.0.
Former Citation
Fricke, Hans et al. 2017. "The Effect of Physical Activity on Student Performance in College." AEA RCT Registry. May 19. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2223/history/17826.
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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
We randomize financial incentives to increase participation in recreational sports and exercise on campus. The incentives were structured as follows: Students were offered an initial endowment of CHF 100 (equals approximately USD 110 at the time of the experiment) in each semester. Therefore, students could earn a total of CHF 200 (CHF 100 per semester). The CHF 100 corresponds to CHF 10 per week (over 10 weeks). If students participated in activities in the gym twice per week during every week, they received the entire amount. Each week the endowment was reduced by CHF 5 if they participated only once that week, and by CHF 10 if they did not participate at all that week. In each cohort, we provided the incentives in two semesters. Incentives were provided in 10 weeks out of the 14-week semester. These 10 weeks covered the third and the last week of the semester. We did not provide incentives during a two-week break in the middle of the semester as most students are not in St. Gallen.
To possibly obtain larger effects on sports and exercise participation, we structured the incentives appealing to students’ loss aversion. That is, we framed the incentives in a way such that students would lose money if they did not exercise instead of receiving money if they did (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979). Such incentives have proven to be effective in our pilot study. Note that by appealing to loss aversion, we deviate from the structure of previous studies that used financial incentives to increase exercise (Charness and Gneezy, 2009; Acland and Levy, 2015; Royer et al., 2015).
We invited students in the treatment groups to participate in a pilot program to foster participation in on-campus recreational activities. In the first week of the semester, we sent students a letter with the invitation and a personalized creditcard-sized card to check participation. In addition, we notified students with an email that they had been selected for the pilot program.
Participation was checked by the university sports staff and course instructors. Every time students participated in activities in the gym, the staff or the course instructors handed them a sticker. The personalized cards had two marked slots per week for these stickers. In order to minimize cheating, we instructed gym staff and course instructors to make sure that students wore gym clothes or showed clear signs of physical exhaustion and to check if the name on the card corresponded to the name of the university ID.
At the outset of the following semester, we paid the remaining endowment (max. CHF 100) as a voucher of the university caterer Migros. The voucher could be redeemed in all university cafes and cafeterias as well as in retail stores owned by the same company. Furthermore, the voucher could be exchanged for cash in the main cafeteria and hence should have been valued by the students close to the cash amount.
Intervention Start Date
2013-10-01
Intervention End Date
2015-05-31
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
students' grades in the first year of their studies
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
We use an encouragement design to identify the effects of physical activity on educational outcomes. Financial incentives were randomized among new undergraduate students in 2013 and 2014 who answered a baseline survey. We implemented a blocked randomization design based on pre-treatment characteristics. All new undergraduate students in these two years received a survey invitation in August, one month before students started the program. The response rates were 42% of 1,340 students in the 2013 cohort and 58% of 1,293 students in the 2014 cohort.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
blocked randomization done by a computer
Randomization Unit
student
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
567 students in first cohort and 754 students in second cohort
Sample size: planned number of observations
567 students in first cohort and 754 students in second cohort
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
282 control and 285 treated in first cohort; 377 control and 377 treated in second cohort
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
Yes
Intervention Completion Date
May 31, 2015, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Yes
Data Collection Completion Date
May 31, 2015, 12:00 AM +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
567 students in first cohort and 754 students in second cohort
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
No
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
567 students in first cohort and 754 students in second cohort
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
282 control and 285 treated in first cohort; 377 control and 377 treated in second cohort
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
No
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
Abstract
What is the role of physical activity in the process of human capital accumu-lation? Brain research provides growing evidence of the importance of physical activity for various aspects of cognitive functions. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle could thus be not only harmful to population health, but also disrupt human capital accumulation. This paper analyzes the effects of on-campus recreational sports and exercise on educational outcomes of university students. To identify causal effects, we randomize financial incentives to encourage students' participation in on-campus sports and exercise. The incentives increased participation frequency by 0.26 times per week (47%) and improved grades by 0.14 standard deviations. This effect is primarily driven by male students and students at higher quantiles of the grade distribution. Results from survey data suggest that students substitute off-campus with on-campus physical activities during the day but do not significantly increase the overall frequency. Our findings suggest that students spend more time on campus and are better able to integrate studying and exercising, which may enhance the effectiveness of studying and thus improve student performance.
Citation
Fricke, H, Lechner, M, Steinmayr, A. (2017) "The Effect of Physical Activity on Student Performance in College: An Experimental Evaluation". CEPR Discussion Paper 12052. Centre for Economic Policy Research.
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS