The Effects of Added Physical Activity on Performance during a Listening Comprehension Task for Students with and without Attention Problems

Article excerpt

Paying attention and listening during lectures or meetings or conversations can be challenging at times for all of us. When placed in such listening situations for extended time periods, most of us tend to keep ourselves occupied by doodling, moving around in our seats, tapping our finger/hands or legs, sometimes talk out of turn, making shopping or to-do lists in our note pads, or twirling strings in our clothing, etc. Listening can also be challenging for all children, who during school hours are required to listen to verbally presented educational materials such as lectures, or lesson and stories, and have to answer comprehension questions based on the content. This can be especially challenging for students who already have attention problems, and are expected to listen without moving or fidgeting. It is estimated that up to 1 in 20 children in the U.S. , and approximately 5.9% of school age children worldwide have a diagnosis of attention problems, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders of childhood (Faraone, Sergeant, Gillberg, & Biederman, 2003; Polanczyk, De Lima, Horta, Biederman, & Rohde, L.A. 2007). These students have difficulty sustaining attention to their tasks and have been reported to display between three and eight times as many off-task behaviors as comparison students (Carroll et al., 2006).

Research has suggested that instead of reprimanding students' movements and added activity, it might be beneficial to include physical activities before or during academic task. Studies have documented positive effects of physical activity for school aged children through school wide exercise programs (Hollar et al., 2010), incorporating physical activity across curriculum (Donnelly et al., 2009), reviewing school data on physical fitness tests and comparing them to academic test scores (Chomitz et al., 2009), including classroom wide exercise programs (Mahar et al., 2006), and integrating outside school activities (Coe, Pivarnik, Womack, Reeves, & Malina, 2006). In general, researchers in these studies demonstrated improvements in standardized test scores, on task behavior, and academic time on task in average functioning school age children.

Physical activity has also been beneficial for school children who have problems in attention and learning, such as those with attention problems or diagnosed disorders. Adding physical activities to their routine academic tasks has been recommended by intervention studies that have been based on the Optimal Stimulation theory (see Kercood, Grskovic, Lee, & Emmert, 2007; Zentall, 2006 for reviews). The Optimal Stimulation Theory hypothesizes that that organisms will initiate stimulation-seeking activity to achieve a stimulatory state that might be described as homeostasis (Hebb, 1955), as in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) engage in excessive physical movement in an attempt to generate stimulation and reach homeostasis (Zentall, 2006; Zentall & Zentall, 1983). Therefore, by adding stimulating activities such as color, novelty or physical activities into routine tasks, one can provide the optimal level of stimulation that they require, which therefore, allows them to have improved task performance and reduced disruptive behaviors (see Zentall, 2006 for review).

The use of physical activities with persons with and without ADHD have included yoga (Jensen & Kenny, 2004), physical activity as a reinforcer for calmness (Azrin, Ehle, & Beaumont, 2006; Azrin, Vinas, & Ehle, 2007), fine motor activities such as the use of flexible tangle toys (Kercood & Grskovic, 2010), and use of therapy balls (Schilling, Washington, Billingsley, & Deitz, 2003). Jensen and Kenny (2004) conducted a study with 20 children with ADHD who were stabilized on medication. The participants were randomly assignment to Yoga group (n=11) and a control group (n=8). Results indicated the participants in yoga performed better on several subscales of the Conners' Parental Rating Scale, Global Index Restless and Impulsive and ADHD Index. …