Effects of moving through space on a spatial working memory task in children and young adults
1Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin; 2Faculty of Sports Sciences, Leipzig University; 3Institute of Sports Sciences, Saarland University
The “embodied cognition” framework indicates that brain areas responsible for motor performance are also used for the representation of language and number concepts (Andres, Olivier, & Badets, 2008). From a developmental point of view, it is an interesting question how representations previously based on concrete motor experiences in early childhood are represented on a more abstract level with advancing age and experience (see also theories by Jean Piaget). Recent empirical work has shown that moving through space can help children to acquire abstract numerical concepts (Fischer, Moeller, Bientzle, Cress, & Nuerk, 2011; Link, Moeller, Huber, Fischer, & Nuerk, 2013). The current study investigates whether an embodied condition as opposed to a passive viewing condition helps children more than young adults when solving a spatial working memory task. Participants were 7- and 9-year old children (N = 21 per group) and young adults (N = 36). They were instructed to work on a spatial version of the n-back task (Dobbs & Rule, 1989). Nine white adjacent squares were projected onto the floor. The task was to compare the current stimulus (square turning red) to the stimulus presented n positions earlier in the sequence. Children worked on the 2-back version of the task (inter-stimulus-interval (ISI) = 5 seconds), and young adults on the 3-back version (slow ISI = 5 seconds, fast ISI = 2.5 seconds). Participants performed the task when standing, and in an embodied version by stepping into the red square. The order of conditions was counterbalanced across participants. Data were analyzed with ANOVAs with embodiment as a within-subjects factor and gender as a between-subjects factor, for children and adults separately. There was no significant main effect of embodiment in any of the analyses. In children, however, there was an interaction of embodiment and age (7-year olds profited from it, 9 year olds didn’t), and of embodiment and gender (boys profited more than girls). In young adults, the only significant effect was a main effect of ISI, with better performances in the slow condition. The results indicate that moving through space can help children to solve a spatial working memory task. Older children and young adults seem to solve the problem on a more abstract level and do not profit from embodiment any more. The finding that boys profit more than girls can be related to their higher level of physical activity (Sallis, Prochaska, & Taylor, 2000).
Long term and follow-up effects of physically active academic lessons on childrens's academic achievement: A cluster randomized controlled trial
1University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Center for Human Movement Sciences, The Netherlands; 2University of Groningen, Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Department of Educational Sciences, Groningen, The Netherlands
Using physical activity in the teaching of academic lesson content is a promising way of learning. Regular moderate-vigorous physical activity could lead to acute and long term functional and morphological changes in the brain underlying cognitive performance (Best, 2010). The aim was to investigate the long-term and follow-up effects of a physically active academic intervention on academic achievement of primary school children. The study is part of the cluster randomized-controlled trial ‘Fit and Academically Skilled at School’ (F&S). In F&S an in-class physical activity program has been implemented during math and language lessons. Participants were 502 children (mean age 8.0) from second and third grade classes of 12 primary schools. The intervention group participated in the program, and the control group attended regular classroom lessons. The intervention lessons were taught in the classroom during two school years, 22 weeks per year, three times a week for 20-30 minutes. In each lesson, 10-15 minutes were spent on math activities and 10-15 minutes on language activities. The physical exercises were aimed at moderate to vigorous intensity. Pre-and posttests included ability scores on spelling and mathematics that were retrieved from a child academic monitoring system (CAMS). In addition, a mathematics speed test and a one- minute reading test were conducted. Children´s academic achievement was measured before the intervention started, after the first and second intervention year and 7-9 months after the intervention had ended. Multilevel analysis showed that children in the intervention group had significantly greater changes in CAMS mathematics scores (t = 4.49; p < .001; ES = 0.42, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.60), mathematics speed test scores (t = 5.44; p < .001; ES = 0.51, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.69), and spelling scores (t = 4.32; p < .001; ES = 0.45, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.66) after two years. No significant effects of the intervention on reading scores were found. Follow-up measurements showed that the intervention group showed significantly greater gains in math, whereas no significant follow-up effects were found for spelling and reading. Physically active academic lessons significantly improved the spelling and mathematics achievement of primary school children. Schools should encourage their staff to use physical active academic lessons throughout primary school. The discussion will also shed a light on future directions of physical activity intervention studies in order to stimulate cognition and brain functioning in primary school children.
Can active video gaming improve executive functions in children with ADHD?
Institute of Sport Science, University of Bern
In childhood, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most frequent mental disorders. Inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity are its key symptoms, which are associated with deficits in Executive Functions. Although medication usually has an effect on symptoms and cognition, possible side effects and missing commitment call for alternative treatments. Cognitive trainings are frequently used for this purpose, although transfer effects to untrained areas seem to be limited. Interventions combining physical and cognitive demands targeting a broader range of cognitive processes might be a means to increase potential effects on Executive Functions. Therefore, in the current study the effects of a cognitively and physically demanding active video gaming intervention on Executive Functions of children with ADHD was examined. Children diagnosed with ADHD between 8-12 years were randomly assigned to either an eight-week active video gaming intervention group (N = 19), which included three training sessions per week à 30 minutes, or a waiting-list-control group (N = 17). Before and after the interventional period, their performance in updating (color span backwards), inhibition and shifting (Simon task; Flanker task) was assessed. Manipulation checks indicate that children in the active video gaming intervention trained on average 2.5 times a week and training was physically and cognitively challenging to them. ANCOVAs (one-tailed; pre-test values as covariates) revealed that children in the intervention group improved their inhibition and shifting performance significantly, compared to control condition (ps < .05). In the current study, a combination of cognitive and physical training in children with ADHD could reveal positive effects with regard to inhibition and shifting. Therefore, in future, active video gaming might serve as adjunct to regular treatment in order to improve Executive Functions in children with ADHD. However, tailored exergames including improvements in cognitive as well as physical challenge are warranted.
Effects of an acute classroom-based physical activity intervention on executive functions of primary school children
Institute of Sport Science, University of Bern
Recent studies indicate the positive impact of physical activities (PA) in school settings not only to enhance physical health (Bailey, 2006), but also cognitive performance (Tomporowski, McCullick, Pendleton, & Pesce, 2015). However the most effective way to enhance executive functions immediately through classroom-based PA is still unanswered. Whereas quantitative PA characteristics, such as intensity and duration (Chang, Labban, Gapin, & Etnier, 2012), are well explored, the qualitative characteristics, such as PA modality, are less frequent investigated (Pesce, 2012). In terms of qualitative characteristics, studies focussing on cognitively engaging PA enhanced executive functions largely than low engaging PA (e.g. Best, 2012; Schmidt, Benzing, & Kamer, 2016). The aim of this study is guided by the questions whether the three core dimensions of executive functions (inhibition, updating and shifting) can benefit from qualitatively different interventions. In a 2 x 2 experimental design, 216 children (Mage = 7.94, SD = 0.44, 49.1% girls) completed a 20 minute classroom-based PA that varied in both, physical exertion (PE; high PE vs. low PE) and cognitive engagement (CE; high CE vs. low CE). Subjective and objective measurements of PE and CE were used for the manipulation check. Executive functions were measured before and immediately after intervention. To test whether a potential change in children`s executive functions would be due to the main effect of PE or CE or an interaction of both, three separate ANCOVAs were conducted using the pre-test values of the dependent variables as covariates. The results show a successful manipulation of the experimental conditions and reveal that high CE conditions elicit a lower performance than low CE conditions in shifting (F(4, 216) = 7.76, p = .006, ƞp2 = .035). No effects were found in updating (F(4, 216) = 2.53, p = .113, ƞp2 = .012) nor in inhibition (F(4, 216) = 1.50, p = .222, ƞp2 = .007). For the factor PE or the interaction of CE and PE, no significant effects were found in any of the three core executive functions (ps > .05). These findings seem to contradict studies on acute effects of cognitive engaging PA. However, the results might be explained by an overload of CE, resulting in a depletion of cognitive resources in second graders. Future studies should focus on revealing the optimal peak of CE related to age. Therefore, an approach in sensitive CE measurements is needed.