The effects of physical activity and social interaction on executive functions - Better together?
Research has shown that acute physical activity (PA) enhances executive functions (EFs). However, it is still not fully understood, what underlying mechanism and associated PA characteristics are responsible for these effects. Derived from unsystematic investigations, social interaction (SI) is proposed as one factor that might positively influence these effects. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate the effects of PA, SI, and their combination on EFs.
A total of 96 sports students aged 17 to 26 years (M = 20.51, SD = 1.73; 50% female) underwent four conditions in a 2×2 within-subject design that varied in terms of PA (physically active exergame/non-physically active exergame) or SI (socially interactive exergame/non-socially interactive exergame). EFs were measured using the computer-based Flanker Task during the baseline assessment and immediately after the four intervention conditions.
Two-way repeated measures ANOVAs showed that participants’ EFs benefited from PA in terms of faster response time (F(1,95) = 19.34, p < .001, ƞ2p = .169) and lower error rate (F(1,95) = 15.43, p < .001, ƞ2p = .140). Concerning SI, results showed that although participants responded faster (F(1,95) = 4.11, p = .045, ƞ2p = .041), they also made significantly more errors (F(1,95) = 15.43, p < .001, ƞ2p = .140) after socially interactive compared to non-socially interactive activities. No significant interaction effects could be demonstrated (p > .050) neither for reaction time (ƞ2p = .036) nor for error rate (ƞ2p = .005).
This study confirmed previous evidence that PA leads to better EFs. Results are in line with the cognitive stimulation hypothesis, which assumes that PA preactivates specific brain areas relevant to higher-order cognitive processes. Concerning socially interactive activities, results show speed-accuracy trade-offs. Besides highlighting the importance of PA for enhancing EFs, this result indicates that SI during exergaming may lead to cognitive overload, resulting in lower performance. Further studies are needed on the effect and underlying mechanisms of different characteristics, such as SI, to promote EFs.
Copyright (c) 2023 Cäcilia Zehnder, Sofia Anzeneder, Amie Wallman-Jones, Mirko Schmidt, Valentin Benzing
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