Brain Gym ®, Exercise, and Cognition

Ferree, Ruth M, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Richards, Herbert C., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Bonvillian, John, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Diamond, Richard, University of Virginia
Sanderson, John, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Stack, Janet, Summer Session Office, University of Virginia

Proponents of the commercial program Brain Gym® claim that their regiment of physical exercise enhances learning and thinking. Although many researchers have found modest support for the notion that exercise promotes cognitive functioning, the Brain Gym® claims remain largely uninvestigated. To test the efficacy of the Brain Gym® program, 30 fourth graders were assessed on a battery of behavioral and cognitive measures before and after intervention. More specifically, two teachers rated each student's behavior using the Conner's Short Teacher Rating Scale-Revised. Based on those ratings, and Stanford 9 Achievement Test© scores, participants were ranked for behavior and achievement and placed in matched triads. From the triads, participants were randomly assigned to one of three activity groups: Brain Gym® exercises, light aerobic exercises, or social activities, which served as a non-exercising control. All were assessed on three cognitive measures: a verbal fluency test, an arithmetic operations test and the d2 Test of Attention©. For five weeks, the groups met each morning for 15 minutes of the designated activities. At the end of five weeks, participants took the tests again. Teachers again completed the behavior rating scale and were interviewed for qualitative impressions of changes in participants' performance. Content analysis of the teacher interviews revealed that although rating scores improved, teachers believed that most students had changed little during this time or they attributed the change to factors other than exercise. Quantitative data analysis revealed significant changes in all measures from pre to post sessions, but only the significant group effect was on arithmetic test scores. On the arithmetic post test, participants in both exercising groups scored significantly higher than the control group, but there was no such difference between the two exercise groups. These findings support the notion that exercise in general may enhance cognitive performance, but they do not offer much support for the claims of the Brain Gym® program.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:15.

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