Relationships between accuracy in predicting direction of gravitational vertical and academic performance and physical fitness in schoolchildren

Wayne Haynes, Gordon Waddington, Roger Adams, Brice Isableu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Enhanced levels of cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF) and physical activity (PA) are both positively associated with health and academic outcomes, but less is known about the spatial processing and perceptual components of PA. Perception of vertical (PV) is a spatial orientation ability that is important for PA, and is usually measured as relative accuracy in aligning an object to gravitational vertical against a tilted background. However, evidence is inconclusive regarding the relationship of PV to educational outcomes - most importantly, numeracy. Students were recruited from primary schools in the Australian Capital Territory. A group of 341 (females n = 162, mean age 11.3 years) children performed all the tests required for this study. A computerised rod and frame test of PV employing a small (20°) visual angle was administered, and socio-economic status (SES), national education test results (NAPLAN, 2010), and CRF and PA data were collected. Correlation and hierarchical regression analysis were used to examine the inter-relationships between PV and CRF, PA, SES and NAPLAN results. The two extreme quartile score groups from the measures of PV, PA and CRF were examined in relation to NAPLAN scores. PV scores arising from testing with a small visual angle and SES were found to be significantly associated with overall academic scores, and with the Numeracy, Reading, and Writing components of academic performance. Female gender was significantly associated with Writing score, and male with Numeracy score. Being less influenced by the background tilted frame, and therefore having visual field independence (FI), was associated with significantly higher academic scores, with the largest effect in Numeracy scores (effect size, d = 0.82) and also associated with higher CRF and PA levels. FI was positively associated with all the academic modules examined, and most strongly with Numeracy test results, suggesting that FI provides an indicator of STEM ability. These findings suggest that further longitudinal research into strategies designed to enhance visual FI deserve consideration, with a focus on specialized PA programs for pre-pubescent children. It is possible that small visual angle spatial tasks during PA may stimulate neural networks involved in numerical cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1528
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume9
Issue numberAUG
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2018

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