Ropes Courses

Ropes Course - Research References
(Rope Challenge Courses)

James Neill
Last updated:
17 Oct 2006

Aghazarian, T. L. (1996). Use of a challenge course as an intervention tool to adolescent self-esteem. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, San Jose State University, California.

Attarian, A., & Holden, G. T. (2005). The literature and research on challenge courses: An annotated bibliography (2nd ed.). Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University and Alpine Towers International.

Comment: This is a must for any ropes challenge course operator or researchers who wants to know what academic literature exists on ropes challenge courses.  It is a recent, well-put-together, thorough collation of the existing literature.

Blanchard, C. W. (1992). Experiential therapy with troubled youth: The ropes course for adolescent inpatients. In G. M. Hanna (ed.). Celebrating our traditions, charting our future: Proceedings of the 20th International Conference of the Association for Experiential Education. Boulder, CO: Association for Experiential Education.

Blanchard, C. W. (1993). Effects of ropes course therapy on interpersonal behavior and self esteem of adolescent psychiatric inpatients. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, New Mexico State University, NM.

Braverman, M., Brenner J., Fretz, P., & Desmond, D. (1990). Three approaches to evaluation: A ropes course illustration. Journal of Experiential Education, 13(1), 23-30.

Burney, J. (1992). Learning the ropes of problem solving and self control: A study of an experiential ropes program for special education students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Union Institute, Cincinnati, OH.

Bunting, C. J., & Donley, J. P. (2002).  Ten years of challenge course research: A review of affective outcome studies.  Poster presented at the 6th Coalition for the Education in the Outdoors Research Symposium, January 11-13, Bradford Woods, IN.  Contact: Camille Bunting at Texas A&M.

Comment: Camille Bunting and John Donley put together an  meta-analytic overview of the dozen or so empirical outcome studies of the effects of ropes challenge course experiences.  Main overall findings are small to moderate positive effects on team-work and self-esteem, but a lot of unanswered questions and unproven claims about ropes challenge courses still exist.  It was a very worthwhile poster presentation at the CEO Research Symposium in 2002, but has yet to be written up for publication.  To find out more, contact Camille Bunting ( or John Donley (

Chakravorty, D., Trunnell, E. P., & Ellis, G. D. (1995). Ropes course participation and post-activity processing on transient depressed mood of hospitalized adult psychiatric patients. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 29(2), 104-113.

Davis, D., Ray, J., & Sayles, C. (1995). Ropes course training for youth in a rural setting: “At first I though it was going to be boring…”. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 12, 445-463.

Dickens, J., C. (1999). Behavioral indicators of conduct disorder in a ropes course initiative. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Union Institute, Cincinnati, OH.

Doherty, C. (2003). The effects of a public school system's one day adventure experience. Unpublished 4th year teacher education project, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

Fretz, P. R. (1989). Challenge and its impacts: Assessment of the challenge Sonoma 4-H adventure ropes course. Unpublished Masters thesis, University of California, Davis, CA.

Gillis, H. L., & Thomsen, D. (1996). A research update (1992 – 1995) of adventure therapy: Challenge activities and ropes courses, wilderness expeditions, and residential camping. Paper presented to the Coalition for Education in the Outdoors Symposium, Bradford Woods, Indiana University, Martinsville, IN.

Comment: A wide-ranging overview of existing adventure therapy research which includes some literature on therapeutic use of ropes challenge courses.  Lee Gillis has been one of the most active researchers in adventure therapy and has finger on the pulse of Project Adventure therapeutic research.  Contact Lee Gillis (

Glass J. S. (1999) The relationship of participation in a low-element challenge course to adolescent’s self reported perceptions of group cohesion. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Hatch, K. D., & McCarthy, C. J. (2005). Exploration of challenge courses' long-term effects on members of college student organizationsJournal of Experiential Education,

Hatch, K. D. (2006). An evaluation of a supplemental procedure geared toward prolonging challenge course benefits. Dissertation Abstracts International, 66(12-B), 6923.

Heyliger, J. (2002). Program Satisfaction Assessment Tool for measuring client satisfaction with challenge course programs.  University of New Hampshire.

Comment: A general program evaluation tool for challenge course programming (1 page, 12 questions).  Jeff Heyliger designed this tool as part of a graduate class at the University of New Hampshire. Highly recommended.

Johnson, J. (1992). Adventure in therapy: The ropes-wilderness connection. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 26(3), 17-24.

Newbarry, E. H., & Lindsay, J. F. (2000). The impact of social skills training and challenge course training on locus of control of youth from residential care. Journal of Experiential Education, 23(1), 39-42.

Parker, M. W. (1992). Impact of adventure interventions of traditional counseling interventions (ropes course). Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The University of Oklahoma, OK.

Terry, L. (2002). A quantitative and qualitative analysis on the effects of an adventure course: An intervention with female adolescents.  Undergraduate Thesis, Scripps College, Claremont, CA.  AbstractFull thesis (1 MB)

Comment: A recent thesis by Leann Terry, Scripps College, USA, found no significant effects of a one-day ropes course on several personal development outcomes measured with the Life Effectiveness Questionnaire. There were no effects either for conducting bi-weekly journaling following the one-day ropes course experience. In qualitative interviews, it was found that students reported developing greater self-confidence and better friendships as a result of the ropes course experience.

Voight, A. (1988). The use of ropes courses as a treatment modality for emotionally disturbed adolescents in hospitals. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 22(2), 57-64.

Wilde, K. J. (1994). Psychophysiological examination of children participating in a challenging ropes course activity. Paper presented to the 9th National Outdoor Education Conference, January, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.