Traditional martial arts can improve self-regulation in schoolchildren

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The report, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, details how researchers at the University of Surrey studied 240 elementary school students aged 7 to 11 over a period of 11 weeks.

Self-regulation describes an individual’s ability to manage and modify their emotions, behavior and cognition. Good self-regulation is associated with positive mental health benefits and better educational outcomes in children.

The trial studied children in four grade groups (school years 3 to 6), with two classes per grade group (eight classes in total). Half of the children in each class were randomly assigned to the Taekwondo experimental trial group and the other half to the control group. The experimental group received two 45-minute taekwondo classes per week and the control group received two 45-minute physical education classes per week during the same trial period.

Baseline data was collected from children the week before the start of classes and after their end, 11 weeks after the initial data collection. The data included questionnaires to assess how children felt about the lessons and how much importance they placed on behaviors related to good self-control; questionnaires completed by teachers assessing children’s self-regulation at school; and, computer tasks assessing a range of mental processes called executive functions that enable self-regulation.

After classes were completed, teachers in the experimental taekwondo group rated the children as having better attention span than those who had regular physical education classes, as well as better executive attention assessed by a flanking task. , where the participant must correctly identify the direction of a stimuli on the screen while ignoring the competing stimuli that surround it.

The results indicate that short standard taekwondo lessons were well received by students and led to higher levels of value placed on self-control. The study also found that classes improved children’s self-regulation and reduced symptoms of conduct disorders.

A large body of research suggests that there are substantial personal and public benefits to improving children’s self-control, however, the research is less clear on how to achieve this in practical terms. Our results suggest that the inclusion of traditional martial arts in schools could both teach children the value of self-control and increase their use of self-regulation. Traditional martial arts are popular extracurricular activities for many children, but their use in schools appears to be quite limited at the present time. “

Dr Terry Ng-Knight, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Surrey


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