Brief Aerobic Exercise Increases Attention, Reading Performance

Michele Tine

Michele Tine

As little as 12 minutes of aerobic exercise increased selective attention and reading comprehension scores for low-income young adults at a highly selective, ”academically elite” (“Ivy League”) US undergraduate university, reported Dartmouth College’s Michele T. Tine and Allison G. Butler of Bryant University.

Alison Butler

Alison Butler

Even these highly-skilled participants, admitted to one of the US’s top academic institutions, had significantly different scores on Selective Visual Attention (SVA) and reading comprehension pre-test tasks, depending on their socio-economic status.

Courtney Stevens

Courtney Stevens

Selective Visual Attention (SVA) is the ability to focus on visual targets while ignoring irrelevant stimuli, and an Executive Function” (EF) required for academic and on-the-job learning, according to University of Oregon’s Courtney Stevens and Daphne Bavelier of University of Rochester.

Specifically, selective attention predicts skills in:

according to University of Oregon’s Stevens with Brittni Lauinger and Helen Neville.

Daniel Hackman

Daniel Hackman

Executive Functions, like Selective Visual Attention (SVA,) are positively correlated to socioeconomic status, found University of Pennsylvannia’s Daniel A Hackman and Martha J Farah, indicating that people with financial advantages often perform better on Executive Function tasks than people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Eric Zillmer

Eric Zillmer

One well-validated measure of Selective Visual Attention (SVA) is the d2 Test of Attention, rapid trials of a manual letter cancellation task, developed by Rolf Brickenkamp and Eric Zillmer of Drexel University.
Participants Tine and Butler’s investigation indicated when they observed the target character among visual distractors.

John Best

John Best

One intervention to increase Executive Function skills, including Selective Visual Attention (SVA) is aerobic exercise, according to University of British Columbia’s John Best.

James Williams

James Williams

In addition to increasing Executive Functions, aerobic exercise increases levels of cortisol and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
These elements are associated with cognitive performance including Selective Visual Attention (SVA), reported Texas Tech’s Lee T Ferris and Chwan-Li Shen with James S Williams of Texas State University, as well as University of Dublin’s Eadaoin W. Griffin, Sinead Mulally, Carole Foley, Stuart A. Warmington, Shane M. O’Mara, and Aine M. Kelly.

Éadaoin W Griffin

Éadaoin W Griffin

Likewise, stress increases levels of cortisol, and lower-income people tend to experience more chronic stress, leading to higher levels of cortisol, according to Northwestern’s Edith Chen and Gregory E. Miller with Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie, and separately by Cornell University’s Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg.

Edith Chen

Edith Chen

Tine and Butler investigated these diverse findings by asking volunteers to:

Gary Evans

Gary Evans

Items include:

  • My parent was fired from his/her job
  • I was a victim of a crime
  • A close friend or family member had health problems
  • My parents divorced or separated
  • I had problems being liked by classmates

Participants also completed three reading comprehension tasks from Sharon Weiner Green and Ira K. Wolf’s GRE Preparation items.

Douglas Williamson

Douglas Williamson

After 45 minutes, participants monitored heart rate to ensure that it was within 10 beats per minute of pre-test measures of resting heart rate.
Brief aerobic exercise sessions eliminated the gap between “Executive Function” performance scores for talented volunteers from lower-income and high-income backgrounds.

Lower-income participants who exercised aerobically had reading comprehension scores comparable to their higher-income counterparts, around 90%,
Likewise, people who exercised significantly improved Selective Visual Attention (SVA) scores, but the video-viewers’ scores did not change, suggesting that exercise was the “active ingredient” in these performance improvements.

In addition, volunteers who exercised and reported higher chronic stress level achieved higher SVA scores and greater SVA score improvement than those who reported less chronic stress.
Cognitive performance improvements were maintained 45 minutes after exercise.

These findings suggest aerobic exercise as an effective, low-cost intervention to reduce achievement differences between people from lower-income and more affluent backgrounds, and this could contribute to increasing the number of diverse applicants in selective higher education settings and skilled employment – as well as increasing endurance, cardiac health, and reducing stress.

-*How have you seen workplaces encourage participation in aerobic exercise for the next generation of potential employees as well as current employees?

-*Do organizations receive more benefit from reducing health care costs and health-related absences or from increasing attention, innovation, and productivity?

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