What was the black power movement

output 4 2010

Does movement make you smart? About the influence of movement on cognitive skills

We all believe that exercise helps you stay lean and healthy. But does exercise also help to improve mental, i.e. cognitive, abilities? Does exercise even make you smart or, in other words, does exercise help delay the aging process? Is it true that children who exercise a lot outside or juggle a lot also have better spatial skills? This article explores these questions and presents the influence of movement on the higher mental faculties.

The aim of this article is to show that movement has an influence on our so-called cognitive abilities, but that a generalized statement that movement makes you smart is certainly too easy. The aim is to show what scientific evidence there is for the influence of certain motor skills on certain cognitive skills. This scientific discourse is of great relevance to everyday life: When movement enhances cognitive abilities, e.g. the abilities of perception and attention, thinking, memory and decision-making processes, intelligence, mental ideas and language (cf. Solso, 2004 ) positively influenced, then there should, for example, be a lot more sport in schools for the children. In primary schools in particular, this is already being implemented through the concept of the “moving school” (cf. Dordel & Breithecker, 2003). The "active school" is understood to mean increased movement in addition to normal physical education in everyday school life, which can be demonstrated, for example, in active learning, movement breaks in class and in an active break. In the context of moving learning, for example, there are “running dictations” in which texts are hung up in the classroom, the children have to run, jump or jump to these texts, then read the text and then write down what they have read from memory. With these running dictations, the influence of movement on memory is implied. At this point it would be important for the scientist to investigate which type of movement or which motor skills trains memory. According to a systematization by Bös (1994), conditional (energetically determined) and coordinative (information-oriented) skills can be distinguished from one another. The conditional skills include endurance, strength and speed, the coordinative skills include quick reactions, the execution of movements under time pressure and precision. Other authors prefer to distinguish between seven different coordinative sub-areas: the ability to differentiate, orientate, rhythmic, connect, react, adapt and balance (Schnabel, Harre, & Krug, 2008). This raises the question for the scientist which motor skills can influence which cognitive skills (see Figure 1).

The studies on the influence of motor activities on cognitive abilities can be based on the target group examined (e.g. older people vs. children), the type of the varied form of movement (e.g. endurance training vs. coordination training) and the type of cognitive ability examined (e.g. memory processes , spatial skills, etc.). Colcombe and Kramer (2003) carried out a meta-analysis, i.e. the analysis of several scientific studies, in order to investigate the influence of training effects through aerobic fitness programs in older people between 55 and 80 years of age. In the studies used, the duration of the training programs (between 15 and 60 minutes), the length (between 1 month and more than 6 months) and the type of training program (aerobic training vs. aerobic training in combination with strength training) varied. The results show robust but also selective effects on cognitive abilities. The greatest influence was evident in the so-called executive control processes. This includes a) working memory, which is used for the short-term storage of information, b) inhibition, i.e. the inhibition of certain reactions and actions and c) attention processes. A task to investigate the executive processes would be, for example, to ask test subjects in a computer task to react whenever a certain stimulus appears on the monitor, but only when it is not surrounded by other defined stimuli. Just like thinking, planning and making decisions, the executive functions are also controlled by the prefrontal cortex (Kubesch, 2008). Another influence of the training programs on the spatial-visual processing processes could be demonstrated. It is interesting to see that on the one hand a training of 1-3 months seems to be just as effective as a training of 4-6 months, but not as effective as a training lasting longer than 6 months, and on the other hand that training groups with a higher proportion of women than men in the group benefited more from the training. In addition, there was a greater gain in training after combined training. In accordance with the meta-analysis, a work with young people in the 7th grade can be seen. Here it was shown that physically more powerful adolescents showed increased attention in the EEG (measurement of brain waves using electrodes) (Kubesch, 2007).

These studies make it clear that the executive functions in particular can be improved through motor activity. In addition to these executive functions, there is another sub-area of ​​cognitive skills, namely the visual-spatial skills that benefit from a motor training program.
When examining visuospatial abilities, tasks related to mental rotation, the ability to imagine an object rotated (Sherpard & Metzler, 1971), play an important role. Spatial cognitive skills are important for problem solving, math and scientific reasoning. They are also absolutely necessary in everyday life: if we want to reach for a cup of coffee, we have to be able to assess both our hand position and the position of the cup of coffee in the room. This everyday observation expresses the strong connection between motor and spatial abilities, which has meanwhile been investigated in some scientific studies: For example, it has been shown that children with restricted motor functions due to a disorder of the neural tube (children with spina bifida) have reduced spatial abilities - have cognitive skills. They have a poorer spatial perception, a poorer mental rotation performance and a poorer spatial working memory performance. The performance in spatial skills correlated with the age of learning to walk in children with spina bifida (Wiedenbauer & Jansen-Osmann, 2006).

In further studies it could be shown that the mental rotational performance can be trained by motor (Jansen, Titze, & Heil, 2009). In one study, all adults performed a mental rotation test on the computer. In this mental rotation test, two dice figures were presented side by side. The figure on the left was rotated compared to the figure on the right. The test subjects should decide as quickly as possible whether the two figures were the same or mirrored. As a result, half of the adults (24 adults) took part in three months of juggling training, while the other half received no training. After these three months, all subjects were given another mental rotation test. The change in the decision time and the error rate between the first and the second rotation test were measured. Figure 2 illustrates the test procedure once again. The results show that the juggling group improved significantly more than the control group. These results could be confirmed in another study with girls between the ages of 6-14 years. Here an influence of juggling on the mental rotation performance was shown, while this influence could not be proven by strengthening training with the same training intensity.


The studies presented make it clear that there is scientific evidence for the influence of movement on certain cognitive abilities, in particular on executive control and visuospatial processes. However, it must be noted that these effects are very specific and the studies are very different due to the different types and intensities of the exercise programs. Scientific research is still in its infancy here. This research gap can be overcome by the systematic variation of different exercise programs in their type (endurance vs. strength vs. coordination or the combination), in their duration and intensity and the measurement of various cognitive activity (in addition to executive control and visual spatial processes, also processes of memory , problem solving, etc.). Movement does not make you smart per se - specific movements can help promote specific cognitive skills!