GUILDFORD, United Kingdom — True mastery over one’s emotions and actions is a tough task at any age, but adolescence can be a particularly turbulent time. However, researchers from the University of Surrey find practicing the martial arts — specifically Taekwondo — can help kids improve their “self-regulation.” In other words, Taekwondo promotes stronger emotional control, improved cognition, and better overall behavior.
Even better, the study finds strong self-regulation in children has a connection to both mental health benefits and better grades in school. Researchers assessed 240 children between seven and 11 years-old for 11 weeks to reach these findings. In all, the team chose eight academic classes for this study. They randomly assigned half of the students in each class to attend Taekwondo lessons. The experimental group attended two 45-minute Taekwondo lessons weekly, while the control group received two 45-minute gym classes per week instead.
Study authors collected baseline date from each participating student before their gym or Taekwondo classes started, and then again after the 11-week experimental period. Each child filled out a series of surveys asking what they thought about their lessons, and the level of importance they placed on practicing “good self-control.” Each student’s teachers also rated their self-regulation at school. Finally, the students completed a series of computer-based tasks measuring cognition and executive brain functioning.
Taekwondo strengthens a child’s attention
After 11 weeks, students attending Taekwondo classes showed a much stronger capacity to pay attention than those attending traditional gym classes. Taekwondo students also scored higher on an executive attention test called the Flanker Exam. The exam involves identifying the direction of an on-screen stimuli while simultaneously ignoring any competing stimuli nearby.
In conclusion, study authors find children respond favorably to standard Taekwondo classes, which help improve kids’ self-control and self-regulation.
“A large body of research suggests that there are substantial personal and public benefits to improving children’s self-control, however, research is less clear on how to achieve this in practical terms. Our findings suggest that including 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 extra-curricular activities for many children, however their use in schools appears to be quite limited at present,” says Dr. Jerry Ng-Knight, a lecturer in psychology at Surrey’s School of Psychology, in a university release.
The findings appear in the journal Developmental Psychology.