The impact of small motor activity on attention and learning in children

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Helen Jones
Submitted: June 2018


Research has suggested that small movements may Improve attention in children by increasing arousal. However, no systematic review has examined this literature. This review aimed to conduct a broad and thorough search, combining relevant evidence in a systematic and critical way In order to establish whether small motor activity improves attention and learning in children. Fifteen studies were reviewed, relating to fidgeting, doodling, chewing gum and alternative seating. The overall evidence was inconsistent with a weighting towards positive findings; however, the insufficient quantity and quality of studies precluded any firm conclusions. A need was identified for further studies using improved designs and including measures of arousal.

The empirical study aimed to investigate links between doodling, arousal and attention in children using a robust, repeated-measures experimental design, including a measure of arousal and exploring moderating effects of other related factors. Fifty-five children (aged 9 to 10 years) individually completed tests of sustained attention (SA) and working memory (WM) under two counterbalanced conditions (doodling/control). Heart rate (HR) was measured during each test. Self-reported state anxiety and fatigue were measured as potential confounders. Self-reported attentional control (AC), trait anxiety and sleepiness were considered as potential moderators. Data were analysed using linear mixed models. Results showed that SA declined while doodling. No main effect of condition on WM was found; however, a near-significant interaction effect indicated that children who reported low AC performed better while doodling, whereas children who reported high AC performed better under the non-doodling condition. HR Increased while doodling; however, changes In HR did not predict changes in SA or WM performance. This study concluded that doodling increases arousal but cannot be recommended to improve SA. Doodling may improve WM for children who struggle with AC. Interference effects may explain the detrimental effects of doodling.

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