Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Erin B. Tone

Second Advisor

David Washburn

Third Advisor

Robert D. Latzman

Fourth Advisor

Lindsey Cohen

Fifth Advisor

Scott B. Martin


Growing bodies of research suggests associations between regular physical activity (PA) and emotional health. One promising mechanism of this association is a cognitive process called cognitive control. Emerging evidence links regular PA to better cognitive control in young adult populations (e.g., Themanson, Pontifex & Hillman, 2008; Winneke et al., 2011). However, almost no research has examined associations between regular PA and cognitive control task performance with emotionally-charged stimuli. Such tasks have the potential to help detect cognitive benefits of regular PA and may more effectively elicit cognitive processes related to emotional functioning than do emotionally-neutral tasks. The current study investigated whether cognitive control is a mechanism that links regular PA and emotional functioning in young adults, particularly when emotional processing in incorporated. In other words, cognitive control, particularly in the face of emotional distractors, was expected to mediate the association between regular PA and emotional health.

Participants in this study comprised 115 young adults from an undergraduate population who responded to self-report measures of PA level and emotional functioning, completed neutral and emotional cognitive control tasks, and participated in a fitness assessment.

Bootstrapping to assess indirect effects revealed that contrary to hypotheses, performance on neutral and emotional cognitive control tasks did not mediate the association between PA level and emotional functioning. Regular PA was not associated with better neutral or emotional cognitive control, nor did it relate significantly to emotional functioning. Further, neither neutral nor emotional cognitive control showed a relationship with emotional functioning. Implications and future directions are discussed.