The effects of sports lessons on emotions in the primary school

  • Christina Heemskerk University of Bern, Switzerland & University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Lars-Erik Malmberg University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Keywords: exercise, cogntition, executive functions, exergaming



Investigate the effect of various intensities of physical activity (PA) on subsequent positive and negative emotions of fourth- to sixth-grade students.


PA can positively affect children’s mood and emotions and this has previously been suggested as one of the mechanisms by which PA promotes mental health, including cognitive function and well-being (the psychosocial hypothesis, Lubans et al., 2016). In particular, moderate (MPA) and vigorous (VPA) activity have been found to positively affect emotions in children and adolescents (e.g. Bourke et al., 2021; Dunton et al., 2014), with positive emotions more strongly affected by acute PA than negative ones (Bourke et al., 2021).


Seventy-seven children in fourth to sixth grade from four primary schools in Oxfordshire (United Kingdom) took part in six physical education (PE) lessons. PE lessons varied in their targeted intensity (low, medium, and high) and complexity (each intensity once at low and once at high complexity). During the classroom lesson before and after each physical education lesson, participants reported their emotional state three times via an app on tablets, by rating eight emotions on a 5-point Likert scale.


Both positive and negative emotions during PE predicted emotions in the classroom after PE. Greater PE lesson enjoyment led to increased positive emotions during PE, and more positive emotions were reported in the classroom after PE when lessons were higher in MPA. VPA led to decreased positive emotions during PE. On the other hand, negative emotions at the end of PE or in the classroom after PE were not affected by moderate (MPA) or vigorous (VPA) PA during PE, or the participants’ enjoyment of the PE lesson. Light PA did not have any significant effect on negative or positive emotions during or after PE. PA intensity did not affect PE lesson enjoyment.


Negative emotions were not affected by any PA intensity. Positive emotions responded differently depending on PA intensity. Independent of intensity, PE lesson enjoyment strongly improved positive emotions.


Bourke, M., Hilland, T. A., & Craike, M. (2021). A systematic review of the within-person association between physical activity and affect in children’s and adolescents’ daily lives. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 52, Article 101825.

Dunton, G. F., Huh, J., Leventhal, A. M., Riggs, N., Hedeker, D., Spruijt-Metz, D., & Pentz, M. A. (2014). Momentary assessment of affect, physical feeling states, and physical activity in children. Health Psychology, 33(3), 255-263.

Lubans, D., Richards, J., Hillman, C., Faulkner, G., Beauchamp, M., Nilsson, M., Kelly, P., Smith, J., Raine, L., & Biddle, S. (2016). Physical activity for cognitive and mental health in youth: A systematic review of mechanisms. Pediatrics, 138(3), 1642–1656.

How to Cite
Heemskerk, C., & Malmberg, L.-E. (2023). The effects of sports lessons on emotions in the primary school. Current Issues in Sport Science (CISS), 8(2), 038.