Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.2, 154-159
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Creative Learning Setting: Autonomous Self-Regulatory
Support as Smoking Prevention
Christine S. Hedler, Franz X. Bogner
Centre of Math & Science Education, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany
Received November 22nd, 2012; revised December 28th, 2012; accepted January 7th, 2013
298 fifth graders’ motivational styles were measured using the Treatment Self-Regulatory Questionnaire
prior to and six weeks following a creative student-centred anti-smoking intervention in secondary
schools. In this paper we can clearly show that our creative learning setting leads to a significant increase
in autonomous motivation and a decrease in controlled motivation. Autonomously motivated pupils had
less or no experience with cigarettes. Pupils’ main guesses about when or why young people smoke, are
curiosity or being together with others. We conclude that such a short-term preventative intervention with
different creative educational methods positively affects pupils’ health self-regulation.
Keywords: Autonomous Motivation; Creative Learning Stations; Health Education; Self-Regulation;
Smoking Prevention
Considerable research has already focused on the optimal
uptake of smoking prevention among adolescents (Bruvold,
1993; Furr-Holden et al., 2004; Maziak et al., 2003). School-
based smoking prevention seems to be a suitable setting to
reach a cohort in the decisive developmental stages (Dijk et al.,
2007; Lynagh et al., 1997). Particularly, within the narrow time
frames available at school, an integration of a brief anti-smok-
ing education lesson is suggested to have effective impact. Such
interventions must aim to prevent early risk behaviours, poten-
tial future use and to stop current use. The main focus should be
on pupils’ thinking about the issues as well as on making their
own decisions about how to behave. Smoking prevention must
go beyond a pure factual knowledge transfer and promote gen-
eral skills to foster health consciousness and social reinforce-
ment (Botvin et al., 2003).
From the pupils’ point of view the teaching style is clearly as
important as the message itself. To take this into consideration,
student-oriented approaches should offer the instructor a variety
of methods suitable for differing learning content (Randler &
Bogner, 2006; Sturm & Bogner, 2008). Smoking prevention
unit will especially support many competences, such as func-
tional and communication competence, critical thinking and
decision-making as well as skills in resisting social influences
(Botvin et al., 1984; 1990). The efficiency of such an open
interactive learning environment has been shown in many stud-
ies (e.g. Christianson & Fisher, 1999; Lord, 1997). A specific
student-oriented approach is learning at stations, where pupils
autonomously work in small teams (Sturm & Bogner, 2008). It
provides hands-on learning experiences, requires that pupils
practice essential knowledge and skills, frees them to observe
and assess their learning. Furthermore, it is more likely to meet
the needs, especially creativity, of individual pupils.
The present study takes into account the fact that smoking
behaviour is a dynamic process including sequential develop-
mental stages (Kremers et al., 2004). Mayhew et al. (2000)
defined and reviewed these stages as follows: Children who
have never smoked and never considered smoking in the future
are in the pre-contemplation stage. They might cognitively be
predisposed to start smoking later on, in so far as they some-
times modify their beliefs and attitudes, for instance, following
exposure to the media or the influence of role models (contem-
plation or preparatory stage). When trying their first cigarette
they are in the trial stage, in which case strong peer influence
could be of great concern. The subsequent experimenting stage
is accompanied by increasing smoking behaviour, creating an
individuals’ self-image as a smoker. The final stages are the
regular stage and daily smoking stage.
The reason for starting smoking at all is principally related to
many predictor variables such as smoking parents or siblings
and the number of smoking friends or peers (Järvelaid, 2004).
This was an important reason for selecting the fifth grade for
the present study. In the German system this grade encom-
passes the transition stage from elementary school to secondary
school, confronting pupils with another learning environment,
new teachers and new peers. In order to obtain potential reasons
why pre-adolescents begin to smoke, Kobus (2003) pointed to
the relevance of knowing how they observe their environment
and how they evaluate others. The question “what do pupils
think about the situations in which young people smoke?” is
therefore of central interest.
To answer this question we should consider different styles
of motivation why pupils begin smoking and how non-smoking
could be fostered. First, controlled motivation means that one
smokes because of external pressure or control and not by con-
fidence that smoking is one’s personal choice. Second, unmo-
tivated persons are unwilling to learn or do anything about
healthy behaviour, especially smoking. In this case, pupils
should implement anti-smoking messages as autonomy-sup-
portive. As shown by a study of parent styles autonomous sup-
port positively predicted autonomous self-regulation (Grolnick
& Ryan, 1989). This is the most self-determined form of moti-
vation that support positive health-care outcomes, even behav-
ioural changes and an awareness of perceived choice without
external influence (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Williams et al., 1999;
2002). As a consequence, their level of autonomous motivation
and in best case, their future non-smoking behaviour should be
engaged. If pupils are more autonomously motivated, they
might better resist social peer pressure and their personal risk of
starting to smoke might be lower.
Many studies regard cognitive achievement as the most im-
portant measure for the efficacy of educational prevention
(Rundall & Bruvold 1988, Tobler et al. 2000). However,
Rosendahl et al. (2005) showed that it is not generally linked to
pupils’ future smoking behaviour. The effectiveness of a pre-
ventative intervention depends rather on individual self-esteem,
behavioural self-regulation and positive outcomes in health
related autonomous motivation (Jackson, 1997). The Treatment
Self-Regulatory Questionnaire (TSRQ) has been shown to be a
useful empirical measure of motivational styles (Ryan & Con-
nell, 1989). It evaluates the degree of autonomous self-regula-
tion with regard to specific healthy behaviour; several studies
have discussed its effectiveness (Levesque et al., 2007; Wil-
liams et al., 2002). We focused in particular on gender-specific
differences because they are viewed as an important variable in
defining pupils’ perceptions and behavioural beliefs (Nic Gab-
hainn & Kelleher, 2000).
There is a distinct lack of studies of how young pupils evalu-
ate the smoking behaviour of other young people or even of
how any brief educational prevention impacts on pupils’
autonomous health motivation and self-regulation. The aims of
our present study are to assess fifth graders’ attitudes towards
smoking, their current smoking status and their intention to
smoke. We quantify the efficacy of the intervention with dif-
ferent creative educational methods on pupils’ autonomous
motivation by using the TSRQ.
Participants and Procedure
298 fifth graders of five randomly selected Bavarian secon-
dary schools (“Gymnasium”) participated in the present study.
The participation was voluntary (a cover letter was sent to all
schools) and teachers as well as pupils were informed about the
confidentiality of their data. The attrition rate due to missing
data was 17% of the original sample; these pupils were ex-
cluded from the evaluation. Participants’ mean age was 10.41
(0.54) years. 124 girls and 174 boys were involved.
The anti-smoking intervention was implemented identically
in classroom settings (fourteen classes). Classes were randomly
selected. The classroom teachers were introduced to the study’s
procedure and instructed not to discuss smoking before the end
of data collection. The pupils were not aware of any details of
the intervention.
Educational Prevention Programme
The preventative programme involved student-centred in-
struction, was implemented as a block course during school
time and lasted for 130 minutes. It consisted of ten obligatory
and three optional learning stations. The individual creative
learning stations dealt both with smoking issues (e.g. cigarette
ingredients and their relevant health consequences, physiologi-
cal harm) and with general skills in resisting smoking (e.g.
smoking refusal techniques, peer pressure, media influence; see
Table 1).
This interactive anti-smoking programme was designed to be
implemented in daily school lessons. The pupils worked at the
learning stations autonomously in small groups of two to three
members by using a coloured workbook and different informa-
tion material. Every learning station had a corresponding chapter
Table 1.
Ten main (A-J) and three optional (K-M) learning stations with different creative educational methods.
Description Creative educational method
“Path of breathing air” Draft the path of breathing air
Solve a brain twister
“Daily drug—allowed and therefore harmless?” Choose 3 interesting points out of an coloured pattern
Solve a riddle
“What’s inside the fag?” Fill in a cloze
Stick on relevant hazard symbols and warnings
Nicotine: “Icy hand” Compare different coloured thermal images of a hand
Carbon monoxide: “The labyrinth” Draw a labyrinth with the left and right hand within a given time
Compare them with those of a smoker (fill in tables)
Tar: “Where does all the smoke remain?”
Depict the spots of blown out cigarette smoke on a tissue
(with and without deep trag) and compare them
Look carefully at different lung pictures
“Health hazard of smoking” Puzzle game with red flags from cigarette packages and human organs (tinker)
Learn to say “NO!” Role game: confrontation with peer pressure
Learn arguments with a comic pattern and give feedback to each other
Create your own “No-smoking-button”. Create a slogan against smoking
Tinker a button with different materials and pencils
“I carry my life in my hand!” Listen to a story (radio play) about self-determination
How much money is consumed”? Calculate the cost of smoking
Flip the amount in a catalogue for pupils
How does smoking advertising operate?” Compare two coloured advertising poster
Just why smoking?!” Fill in a comic about smoking reasons of young and adult people
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 155
in the workbook. A sample solution was lying on the teacher’s
desk for pupils’ self-control. The participants often had to dis-
cuss problems within their groups, to handle equipment and to
make notes of their individual group findings in the workbook.
The teacher simply had the role of a supervisory facilitator and
was able to focus on special problems or individual pupils.
Another detailed description of the learning stations’ content,
its effectiveness in pupils’ cognitive achievement and intrinsic
motivation concerning the influence of learning environment
(comparing two learning settings: “school” and “out-of-school”)
will be provided elsewhere (see Author 1 & Author 2). Due to
our general test design we did not address fifth graders of sec-
ondary schools others than Gymnasium or a control group (e.g.
traditional lesson).
Empirical Measures
We used several items and batteries (see below). The test
was administered anonymously and required approximately 15
minutes to complete. Question sequences were randomized per
test (pre and follow-up) to prevent test effects (an individual
anonymous number code of each participant affected clear
matching). The pupils were unaware of time schedules or repe-
titions. The ethical approval of the study was carried out by the
review board of ministry of education.
Smoking Measures
Current smoking status was measured at two test schedules:
at a pre-test (T-1; Cronbach’s alpha 0.70) one week prior to
intervention and at a follow-up test (T-2; alpha = 0.74) six
weeks later. The items were (following Carlhoff, 1982): “Have
you ever tried a cigarette?”, “Have you ever smoked a whole
cigarette?” and “Have you smoked often?” rated “Yes” or “No”.
We measured the future intention to smoke with one item: “Do
you think you will smoke in five years?” The pupils were cate-
gorized into four relevant types (according to Mayhew et al.,
2000 and Kremers et al., 2004), see Table 2.
Another item was “If you have already tried smoking, or
have smoked, it was because of...” with five possible responses:
“curiosity”, “bravado”, or “invitation by friends”, “parents” or
“siblings”. A further question concerned pupils’ appraisal of
young peoples’ reasons or motives to smoke, namely “In which
situations do you think young people smoke?” with thirteen
items to answer with “Yes” or “No” (e.g. “after a meal”). Mul-
tiple answers were possible but a maximum of five permitted.
We evaluated the pupils’ attitude towards the new smoke-free
school policy by means of a grading score: from 1 = very good,
over 3 = I don’t care to 5 = not good at all.
Self-Regulation Measures
The TSRQ, modified for pre-adolescents, measures motive-
tional styles for specific health-related behaviour, in our case,
the intention to smoke. It is useful in examining when or why
pupils would or would not smoke, assessed using the following
statement: “The reasons I would not smoke are...”. It contained
three subscales: the autonomous regulatory style (six items, e.g.
“Because I personally believe it is the best thing for my
health”); the controlled regulatory style (six items, e.g. “Be-
cause others would be upset with me if I smoke”); and amotiva-
tion (three items, e.g. “I really don’t know why”; Ryan and
Connell, 1989; Williams et al., n.d.). A Likert scale ranging
from 1 = not true at all, over 3 = somewhat true, to 5 = very
true was employed. The test was applied twice: in a pre-test
(T-1; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.75) about one week prior to the
intervention and in a follow-up test (T-2; alpha = 0.77) six
weeks later. A “Relative Autonomous Motivation Index” was
calculated from the TSRQ response, computed as the average
for the autonomous regulatory style minus the average for the
controlled regulatory style (Williams et al., n.d.).
Statistical Analysis
SPSS 16.0 was employed in all the calculations and Sigma
Plot 11.0 to create the figure. We applied non-parametric tests
due to a non normal distribution of the scores. A p-value of less
than 0.05 was used as the significance threshold. Differences in
the proportion of variables were tested using Chi-square analy-
sis. Gender-differences were examined where possible.
Pupils’ Smoking Behaviour
Most pupils belonged to the Precontemplators (89.9%; see
definitions in Table 2) at both time schedules. A few partici-
pants (1.3%) of both genders belonged to the Contemplators
and 7.4% belonged to the Triers. Significantly more boys had
already tried cigarettes at T-1 (chi square = 11.636; p = 0.001).
Only 1.3% of the participants are Experimenters.
The most frequently stated reason for trying or experiment-
ing with cigarettes was “curiosity” (73.1%) and secondly “be-
cause of friends” (23.1%). The other reasons were less popular:
“bravado” (11.5%), “because of parents” (7.7%) or “siblings”
(3.9%). The percentages may not add up to 100% because of
multiple responses.
The findings of pupils’ estimation about when or why young
people smoke are presented for the total sample (N = 298).
Only a few pupils chose the motives “to occupy my hands”
(5.7%), “for better concentration” (5.7%) and “after a meal”
(8.1%). Other possible motives scored low to moderate, namely
“unpleasant situation” (19.5%), “relaxation” (23.2%), “rest-
lessness” (23.2%), “worry or anger” (27.5%), “boredom”
(37.6%), “by habit” (47.3) and “to be more attractive” (55.7%).
Table 2.
Categories of smoking status.
Stage Definition Label
Pre-contemplation stage Non-smokers who do not intend to smoke. Precontemplators
Contemplation stage Non-smokers, but with the intention to smoke in the next five years. Contemplators
Trial stage Tried only a puff or at most one cigarette. Triers
Erimenting stage xpeSmoke on an experimental basis (more than once). Experimenters
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
About two-thirds considered “stress” (67.1%), “being together
with others” (84.2%) and “discos/parties” (89.9%) as the main
typical situations in which young people would smoke.
Gender differed in four situations, with girls yielding higher
scores regarding “stress” (Mann-Whitney U Test: Z = 2.692; p
= 0.007) and “unpleasant situation” (Z = 2.035; p = 0.042).
Boys yielded higher scores for the motives “by habit” (Z =
2.978; p = 0.003) and “relaxation” (Z = 3.257; p = 0.001).
Analysis of Se l f-Regulation
Regarding the three TSRQ subscales, the autonomous regu-
latory style showed high scores for both time schedules and no
significant differences regarding pre- and follow-up tests (N =
298; Z = 0.402; p = 0.688). The controlled regulatory style
showed significant differences (Z = 7.628; p < 0.001). Mean
scores for the amotivation style were relatively low and
dropped significantly after six weeks (Z = 5.764; p < 0.001;
Figure 1).
The “Relative Autonomous Motivation Index” was 1.355 in
the pre-test and 1.708 in the follow-up test, an increase from
baseline to follow-up of 20.7% towards more pupils’ autono-
mous regulation.
The TSRQ scores were gender-dependent in almost all cases;
girls showed comparatively lower scores. In the pre-test, sig-
nificant gender differences were obtained for the autonomous
regulatory style (Mann-Whitney U Test: Z = 2.184; p = 0.029)
and the amotivation style subscales (Z = 1.992; p = 0.046),
whereas the controlled regulatory style subscale did not differ
(Z = 1.572; p = 0.116). At follow-up, we found significant
gender differences in the autonomous regulatory style (Z =
2.363; p = 0.018) and controlled regulatory style subscales (Z
= 2.602; p = 0.009). We found no significant difference, but a
strong tendency in the amotivation style subscale (Z = 1.947;
p = 0.051).
The main findings of our study are that curiosity or being
together with others are pupils’ main guesses about when or
why young people smoke. Only few fifth graders had already
experimented with cigarettes. The intervention affected posi-
Figure 1.
Differences in the mean scores of the TSRQ subscales (1 = not true at
all to 5 = very true) for the two test times: pre-test (T-1) and follow-up
test (T-2; N = 298).
tively their autonomous motivation and decreased their con-
trolled motivation and amotivation.
Fortunately, most of the participants were non-smokers with
no intention to smoke. This number is lower than in other stud-
ies (e.g. Milton et al., 2008), maybe because of the young age
group. The participants are younger than the initiation age of
approximately 11.6 years (BZgA, 2004), because especially at
this early age an anti-smoking education programme may sup-
port non-smoking behaviour (Furr-Holden, et al., 2004). More
boys had already tried cigarettes, in confirmation of other stud-
ies suggesting that boys try cigarettes at an earlier age than girls
(Järvelaid, 2004; Lucas & Lloyd, 1999; Mayhew et al., 2000).
Our sample contained only a small number of already experi-
menting pupils and no pupils smoked regularly or daily, which
is a reassuring result for the target group of fifth graders.
The main self-reported reason for trying or experimenting
with cigarettes was curiosity, a finding that is in line with other
studies which have reported curiosity as a significant predictor
and critical factor of progression toward smoking (Dijk et al.,
2007; Milton et al., 2008; Pierce et al., 2005). Curiosity associ-
ates strongly with having friends who smoke, due to their
strong influence, i.e. they communicate their subjective positive
effects of smoking and this may provoke curiosity in non-
smokers. The transition process from non-smoker to experi-
menter is characterized by stronger peer than family influences
(Mayhew et al., 2000). Reasons for trying cigarettes vary across
studies, but often give family, peers and neighbourhood as the
strongest influence (Järvelaid, 2004; Kremers et al., 2004).
These results suggest that a variety of factors are associated
with the developmental stages of smoking (Mayhew et al.,
The present study also explored children’s evaluation of
situations when young people smoke. Pupils selected the situa-
tions “being together with others” and “discos/parties” as typi-
cal smoking situations in confirmation of other studies report-
ing high external influence and peer pressure on pre-adoles-
cents (Kobus, 2003). In addition, “Stress” was one of the fa-
vourite reasons given, maybe because of impressions from
older people, films and media etc., with the imagery as an ac-
curate reflection of reality (McCool et al., 2001). This supports
other findings that many children believe that smoking can help
to reduce stress and alleviate negative mood states (e.g. Free-
man et al., 2005). The simple fact that many potential reasons
for smoking were not selected, like smoking “after a meal”,
points to the need for specific education about the scope of this
subject and the smoking image. Our results show gender dif-
ferences in the reasons given for smoking (see e.g. Lucas &
Lloyd, 1999). Girls selected “stress” and “unpleasant situa-
tions”, whereas boys chose other aspects, like “relaxation” and
“by habit”. Future smoking prevention should be tailored to
these varying evaluations.
Brown et al. (2007) showed that a student-centred preventa-
tive programme can be successful; in our study this success is
achieved by the increase in autonomous motivation. The pupils
already had high autonomous self-regulation prior to the inter-
vention. Fortunately, the decrease in the controlled regulatory
style and in the amotivation style implies that the intervention
affected positively pupils’ self-regulation and that it was
autonomously supportive. The resulting differences might be
caused of pupils’ creative satisfaction with the intervention
itself, expressed in a very positive motivation. This is in line
with Lord (2001) who pointed to pupils’ preference for a stu-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 157
dent-oriented approach and their contentment with such learn-
ing experiences. Similarly, Tobler (2000) noted interactive pro-
grammes to be more effective than non-interactive ones. Espe-
cially for girls, fostering self-regulation will be of future con-
cern in educational prevention because of the social sensibility
to the smoking environment (Mayhew et al., 2000).
Some study limitations should be mentioned. Although the
attrition rate was relatively low it could be that those who
dropped out had a higher risk of starting to smoke. Because of
the few already trying and experimenting pupils in our study, it
was not possible to examine the influence of the intervention on
higher or lower at-risk pupils. Children at higher risk of begin-
ning smoking need comparatively more and long-term help in
developing social and refusal skills and autonomous support
(Epps & Manley, 1993). It point to a need for further follow-up
data to measure longer-term effects of such a preventative crea-
tive intervention on smoking-related attitudes (Lynagh et al.,
1997). As Freeman et al. (2005) has established, experimenting
with cigarettes often occurs after the transition from elementary
to secondary school, because some of the new peers are already
smoking. Therefore, there is an implication for future interven-
tions to measure the influence of autonomous support on pu-
pils’ autonomous motivation for not smoking in the long term.
Another limitation of the study should be mentioned: we could
not obtain any measures of a control group due to the test de-
sign. Although Israel et al. (1995) showed that the assignment
to control groups may not always be feasible or desirable; we
were not able to apply these specific items to a control group
without any intervention. Furthermore, there is still a need to
examine the effect of the attitudes in a smoking prevention
approach without any group work. However, such newer orien-
tations had a comparatively greater impact on attitudinal and
behavioural changes and should definitely be supported (Bru-
vold, 1993).
To conclude, anti-smoking interventions should be tailored
to pupils’ developmental stages, targeted to their varied ex-
periences and motivational styles (Milton et al., 2008). Primary
prevention should always foster autonomous motivation in
health behavior. As shown, meaningful smoking prevention
with different creative educational methods motivates individu-
als and reduces the proportion of at-risk pupils. Careful atten-
tion should always be given to factors that may affect early
onset users, e.g. external control. Curiosity is the most signifi-
cant predictor and needs most attention. Interventions in a crea-
tive learning setting should generally focus on different
health-related profiles as well as on different risks of starting to
smoke. Our study shows that even a short-term student-centred
preventative intervention positively affects pupils’ autonomous
self-regulation and health-related attitudes, and possibly influ-
ences their future healthy behaviour.
This research was supported by the EU-grant BIOHEAD
(Biology, Health and Environmental Education for better Citi-
zenship). The authors would like to thank S. Gross for useful
comments on this paper and to M. Wiseman for statistical as-
sistance and valuable discussion.
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