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Do our movement skills impact our cognitive skills? Exploring the relationship between cognitive function and fundamental movement skills in primary school children

Open AccessPublished:August 03, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2022.08.001

      Abstract

      Objectives

      The literature suggests that there is a relationship between motor function and cognitive development however, few studies have explored the specific role of Functional Movement Skills on cognitive function. This research aimed to determine if Functional Movement Skills predict cognitive function, when accounting for confounding factors, in a sample of primary school children in Ireland.

      Design

      Cross-sectional.

      Methods

      Sixty primary school children (51.7 % girls, age range 7–12 years, mean age 9.9 ± 1.28) were assessed in their Functional Movement Skill proficiency using the Test of Gross Motor Development—3rd Edition and a subtest of the Bruininks–Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency 2 Short Form (to assess balance). Participants also completed a series of cognitive tests which formed part of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery.

      Results

      A series of hierarchical regression analyses were conducted whilst controlling for covariates (Age; Gender; Socio Economic Status). Attention Switching, Reaction Time, and Emotional Recognition were found to be associated with Overall Functional Movement Skills (Locomotor, Object Control, Stability). Overall Functional Movement Skills significantly accounted for 4.7 % of the variance in Simple Reaction Time (ΔR2 = 0.032; p = 0.13) whilst Stability significantly accounted for 5.5 % (ΔR2 = 0.055; p = 0.04) and 12.9 % (ΔR2 = 0.129; p = 0.00) of the variance in Simple Reaction Time and Emotional Recognition, respectively, after controlling for covariates.

      Conclusions

      Overall Functional Movement Skills may be more related to reaction time than attention and spatial working memory, whilst stability may be more associated with emotional recognition. Further research is warranted. Greater comprehension of the impact of Functional Movement Skills on cognitive function in children can contribute to the development of more effective and efficient physical activity programmes, which can in turn contribute to and promote holistic child development.

      Keywords

      Practical implications

      • Attention Switching, Reaction Time, and Emotional Recognition are significantly associated with Overall FMSs and its associated skills.
      • The results suggest that Overall FMSs may be more closely related to reaction time than attention and spatial working memory.
      • Stability was found to significantly predict Emotional Recognition.
      • The findings of this study suggest that there may be some predictive relationship between FMSs and some cognitive functions and as such warrant further investigation.

      1. Introduction

      Fundamental movement skills (FMSs) are an essential component of a child's overall development
      • Bremer E.
      • Cairney J.
      Fundamental movement skills and health-related outcomes: a narrative review of longitudinal and intervention studies targeting typically developing children.
      and act as building blocks for adequate participation in multiple physical activities for children, adolescents, and adults. Commonly developed in childhood, FMSs include locomotor (e.g., running and hopping), object control (e.g., catching and throwing), and stability (e.g., balancing and twisting) skills. These skills play a considerable role and are used in practically every aspect of daily life. As well as providing the foundation for an active lifestyle, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the development of motor skills is directly associated with other aspects of development in early and middle life such as social, emotional, and cognitive development.
      • Bremer E.
      • Cairney J.
      Fundamental movement skills and health-related outcomes: a narrative review of longitudinal and intervention studies targeting typically developing children.
      ,
      • Piek J.P.
      • Dawson L.
      • Smith L.M.
      • et al.
      The role of early fine and gross motor development on later motor and cognitive ability.
      According to the research, motor skills are linked with cognitive development and function.
      • Rigoli D.
      • Piek J.P.
      • Kane R.
      • et al.
      An examination of the relationship between motor coordination and executive functions in adolescents.
      ,
      • Roebers C.M.
      • Kauer M.
      Motor and cognitive control in a normative sample of 7-year-olds.
      Cognitive functioning refers to an individual's ability to acquire, organise and use knowledge and is essential for everyday behaviour. It permits us to understand and relate to the world around us. Cognitive development of higher order cognitive skills (e.g., executive functions — response inhibition, planning, attention, working memory, cognitive flexibility) are key components that are important in the development of a child, through adolescence and into adulthood.
      • Munakata Y.
      • Snyder H.R.
      • Chatham C.H.
      Developing cognitive control: three key transitions.
      These components give children the ability to pay attention, retain and manipulate information appropriately, process information and respond quickly and accurately and alternate between task conditions.
      • Davidson M.C.
      • Amso D.
      • Anderson L.C.
      • et al.
      Development of cognitive control and executive functions from 4 to 13 years: evidence from manipulations of memory, inhibition, and task switching.
      These cognitive skills are purported to be associated with motor skills
      • Rigoli D.
      • Piek J.P.
      • Kane R.
      • et al.
      An examination of the relationship between motor coordination and executive functions in adolescents.
      ,
      • Roebers C.M.
      • Kauer M.
      Motor and cognitive control in a normative sample of 7-year-olds.
      with better motor skills found to be related to more efficient cognitive functions such as inhibitory control and working memory.
      • Haapala E.A.
      Cardiorespiratory fitness and motor skills in relation to cognition and academic performance in children – a review.
      The notion is supported by the idea that sensory and motor functioning regions of the brain are typically first to mature.
      • Rigoli D.
      • Piek J.P.
      • Kane R.
      • et al.
      An examination of the relationship between motor coordination and executive functions in adolescents.
      Moreover, both motor and cognitive skills have several mutual fundamental processes such as sequencing, monitoring, and planning and are purported to have similar developmental timetables which are accelerated during childhood.
      • Roebers C.M.
      • Kauer M.
      Motor and cognitive control in a normative sample of 7-year-olds.
      According to Piaget's ‘Cognitive Development Theory’, motor development and cognitive development are related through “thinking by bodily movement” in which cognitive processes are enhanced by action created by the body. Roebers & Kauer
      • Roebers C.M.
      • Kauer M.
      Motor and cognitive control in a normative sample of 7-year-olds.
      examined over one hundred 7-year-olds with several cognitive executive tasks and motor coordination tasks. Performance in both types of tasks was found to be significantly interrelated, even when controlling for age. Moreover, neuroimaging studies have highlighted that regions of the brain formerly thought to be exclusively associated with motor activity (i.e., cerebellum and basal ganglia) or with cognition (i.e., prefrontal cortex) are in fact co-activated during the execution of specific cognitive or motor activities,
      • Behan S.
      • Belton S.
      • Peers C.
      • et al.
      Exploring the relationships between fundamental movement skills and health related fitness components in children.
      thus further supporting the notion of a close relationship between motor and cognitive functions.
      Bushnell and Boudreau
      • Bushnell E.W.
      • Boudreau J.P.
      Motor development and the mind: the potential role of motor abilities as a determinant of aspects of perceptual development.
      proposed that motor development may act as a ‘control parameter’ for further development, such that some motor functions may act as a criterion for the successful acquisition of other developmental functions (i.e., perceptual and cognitive abilities). In their longitudinal study, Piek and colleagues
      • Piek J.P.
      • Dawson L.
      • Smith L.M.
      • et al.
      The role of early fine and gross motor development on later motor and cognitive ability.
      found that among a sample of Australian children aged 4 months–12 years, gross motor skills served as a significant predictor for subsequent cognitive performance (i.e., working memory and processing speed), after controlling for socioeconomic status. When using the Bruininks–Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOT-2), Niekerk et al.
      • Niekerk L.V.
      • Toit D.D.
      • Pienaar A.E.
      The relationship between motor proficiency and academic performance of adolescent learners in Potchefstroom.
      found that the motor competency (fine and gross motor abilities) of 13- to 14-year-olds in South Africa was significantly related to academic performance (i.e., English and Mathematics). Moreover, Lopes et al.
      • Lopes L.
      • Santos R.
      • Pereira B.
      • et al.
      Associations between gross Motor Coordination and Academic Achievement in elementary school children.
      found that among Portuguese children aged 9–11 years, those with low gross motor coordination had a higher probability of having low academic achievement, after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness, body mass index, and socio-economic status.
      The literature suggests that there is a relationship between motor function and cognitive development however, few studies have explored the specific impact of FMSs on cognitive function.
      • Bremer E.
      • Cairney J.
      Fundamental movement skills and health-related outcomes: a narrative review of longitudinal and intervention studies targeting typically developing children.
      According to Carson et al.,
      • Carson V.
      • Hunter S.
      • Kuzik N.
      • et al.
      Systematic review of physical activity and cognitive development in early childhood.
      in childhood, one should begin to acquire and develop the ability to regulate one's attention, working memory, flexibility, and executive function. Therefore, the purpose of this research was to determine if FMS ability predicts cognitive function, specifically attention, reaction time, spatial working memory, and emotional recognition, when controlling for age, gender, and other confounding factors, in a sample of primary school children in Ireland. A greater understanding of the nature of this relationship may provide insights to teachers and movement specialists during the fundamental movement development phase in children.

      2. Methods

      The participants involved in this study were part of a wider physical literacy study known as “Moving Well-Being Well” (n = 2098, 47 % girls, age range 5–12 years). There were 44 schools involved across 12 counties (56 % rural, 44 % urban) in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Areas classed as “socioeconomically disadvantaged” qualify for the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme in Irish primary schools, and this study's sample includes 25.0 % DEIS schools (n = 15 DEIS schools, n = 45 non-DEIS schools). A subsample of schools and participants that captured demographics was selected, with 13 schools ranging across the primary school spectrum chosen which included 60 participants (n = 29 boys, n = 31 girls, age range 7–12 years, mean age 9.9 ± 1.28). The subsample of schools was selected in an effort to best represent the primary school landscape in Ireland, with an appropriate mix of urban, rural, DEIS and non DEIS schools participating. Ethical approval from the institution's Research Ethics Committee was obtained (DCU/REC/2017/029). Parental consent and participant assent were obtained. A unique numerical code was assigned to all participants to ensure that their anonymity was maintained. Data collection was conducted March through June 2017 across typically developing junior infants to sixth class children.
      Participants' proficiency in FMSs was assessed using the Test of Gross Motor Development—3rd Edition (TGMD-3). The TGMD-3 comprises of a locomotor (run, skip, gallop, slide, hop, and horizontal jump) and an object-control assessment (catch, overhand throw, underhand roll, kick, two-handed strike, one-handed strike, and stationary dribble).
      • Ulrich D.A.
      Introduction to the special section: evaluation of the psychometric properties of the TGMD-3.
      A vertical jump test was also included, due to its context in Irish sport participation.
      • O’Brien W.
      • Belton S.
      • Issartel J.
      The relationship between adolescents’ physical activity, fundamental movement skills and weight status.
      Previous research has used these measurement tools repeatedly and both have a high degree of validity and reliability.
      • Cools W.
      • Martelaer K.D.
      • Vandaele B.
      • et al.
      General fundamental movement skill development of 4- to 6-year-old pre-school children in Flanders.
      These are performance based assessments, with both the TGMD-3 and the vertical jump test assessing the performance of skill components, rather than the outcome or product of the performance. Again, both have established validity and reliability (α = 0.81) in this age cohort.
      • Cools W.
      • Martelaer K.D.
      • Vandaele B.
      • et al.
      General fundamental movement skill development of 4- to 6-year-old pre-school children in Flanders.
      As mentioned, the TGMD is a common assessment tool and has been employed in numerous studies, but a common criticism would highlight the lack of a stability component. In order to assess FMSs in the most complete way possible, a subtest of the Bruininks–Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency 2 (BOT-2) Short Form was used to assess the participants' balance. The BOT-2 Short Form is a motor competence battery originally designed to identify individuals with mild to severe motor problems. It has proven validity and reliability (α = 0.92), and has been widely used in past research.
      • Cools W.
      • Martelaer K.D.
      • Vandaele B.
      • et al.
      General fundamental movement skill development of 4- to 6-year-old pre-school children in Flanders.
      The test consists of two tasks, walking forward along a straight line, and standing on one leg on a balance beam with eyes open. These assessments are scored on the outcome of the performance, in contrast to the TGMD-3, and participants score between 0 and 4 for each task.
      The Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery is a battery of computerised neuropsychological tests by the University of Cambridge, England
      • Smith P.J.
      • Need A.C.
      • Cirulli E.T.
      • et al.
      A comparison of the Cambridge Automated Neuropsychological Test Battery (CANTAB) with “traditional” neuropsychological testing instruments.
      which was used to assess participants' cognitive function. The CANTAB tests depend on touch screen technology, which provides rapid and non-invasive cognitive assessment and have been previously employed in other studies evaluating the cognitive functions of children from 4 to 12.
      • Robinson S.M.
      • Crozier S.R.
      • Miles E.A.
      • et al.
      Preconception maternal iodine status is positively associated with IQ but not with measures of executive function in childhood.
      Five tests from CANTAB were used to assess the cognitive functions of the participants, namely: i) attention switching (AST); ii) reaction time (RTI); iii) rapid visual information processing (RVP); iv) spatial working memory (SWM); and v) emotion recognition (ERT). Please see Table 1 for a breakdown of the cognitive constructs and their acronyms. A detailed technical description of the tests can be found on the Cambridge Cognition's website: http://www.cantab.com.
      Table 1Breakdown of cognitive constructs.
      Cognitive constructAcronymExplanation
      Attention switchingASTLCMDMedian Latency of Response (from stimulus appearance to button press) on Congruent Trials
      ASTLSWMDMedian Latency of Response (from stimulus appearance to button press) in Assessed Block(s) in Which the Rule is Switching
      Reaction timeRTIFMDRTReaction Time Median Five-Choice Reaction Time – The median duration it took for a participant to release the response button after the presentation of a target stimulus. Calculated across correct, assessed trials in which the stimulus could appear in any one of five locations
      RTISMDRTReaction Time Median Simple-Choice Reaction Time – The median duration it took for a participant to release the response button after the presentation of a target stimulus. Calculated across correct, assessed trials in which the stimulus could appear in one location only
      Sustained attentionRVPARapid Visual Information Processing Accuracy – RVP A prime: is the signal detection measure of a participant's sensitivity to the target sequence (string of three numbers), regardless of response tendency (the expected range is 0.00 to 1.00; bad to good). In essence, this metric is a measure of how good the participant is at detecting target sequences
      RVPMDLRapid Visual Information Processing Median Response Latency – The median response latency on trials where the participant responded correctly. Calculated across all assessed trials
      Spatial working memorySWMBESpatial Working Memory Between Errors – The number of times the participant incorrectly revisits a box in which a token has previously been found
      SWMSSpatial Working Memory Strategy; Emotional Recognition – The number of times a participant begins a new search pattern from the same box they started with previously. If they always begin a search from the same starting point we infer that the participant is employing a planned strategy for finding the tokens. Therefore, a low score indicates high strategy use (1 = they always begin the search from the same box), a high score indicates that they are beginning their searches from many different boxes.
      Emotional recognitionERTOMDRTEmotional Recognition Task Overall Median Reaction Time – The overall median latency for a participant to select an emotion word after being presented with a stimulus
      ERTTHEmotional Recognition Task Total Hits – The total number of correct responses (emotion selection) the participant made across all assessed trials.
      Each member of the research team underwent formal training in order to ensure familiarity and consistency with the assessments. In order to ensure consistency in the FMS measurement, all were required to meet a 95 % inter-observer agreement on a pre-coded data set, whilst being blind to the conditions of coding. A visual demonstration of the skill was performed prior to the assessment, by a trained member of the research team. This is consistent with the protocols identified by Ulrich,
      • Ulrich D.A.
      Introduction to the special section: evaluation of the psychometric properties of the TGMD-3.
      and mirrors the methods widely used throughout the literature.
      • Ulrich D.A.
      Introduction to the special section: evaluation of the psychometric properties of the TGMD-3.
      ,
      • Cools W.
      • Martelaer K.D.
      • Vandaele B.
      • et al.
      General fundamental movement skill development of 4- to 6-year-old pre-school children in Flanders.
      No verbal feedback or cues were given, whilst participants were unaware of the components being assessed. Each participant first completed a practice trial to familiarise themselves, before being asked to perform every skill twice. The number of skill criteria varies from three to six across the various tests, with a score of one noted if the participant fulfilled the necessary criteria. A zero indicates that they failed to meet these criteria. The participants' raw score per skill was calculated from totalling scores from both trials. Upon completion of all skill assessments, the locomotor, object control, and balance skills were combined to give a raw Overall FMS score.
      The first balance subtest, walking forward on a straight line, is graded based on the amount of steps a participant takes whilst adhering to strict criteria of the Bruininks–Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency. Points were awarded to the participant in line with the number of steps taken, e.g. six continuous steps equal four points. Standing on one leg on the balance beam was scored based on the time a child could maintain their balance whilst adhering to the prescribed criteria. Again, points were awarded based on the time a participant kept their balance, e.g. over 10 s equals four points. If a participant scored maximum points in the first trial, there was no need to complete a second trial.
      FMS assessments are traditionally measured using the pen and paper method.
      • Ulrich D.A.
      Introduction to the special section: evaluation of the psychometric properties of the TGMD-3.
      A similar pen and paper method has been used in the past for the balance test. Before any statistical analyses can be undertaken, all results must be input into a database. This time-consuming method doubles the opportunity for human error during data entry. To alleviate this problem, a unique iPad application was developed to collect the data. The equivalent of the paper version was created in the iPad application. Further details are outlined in previous studies.
      • Behan S.
      • Belton S.
      • Peers C.
      • et al.
      Exploring the relationships between fundamental movement skills and health related fitness components in children.
      The cognitive tests were administered and supervised by the lead psychologist and one other member of the research team, with a maximum of 8 participants per session. The tests were administered on iPad Air 2 (model: A1566, dimensions: 9.7 inch retina display) and were completed within 30 min. All participants received a detailed explanation on how to undertake each cognitive test and the tests were all carried out in the same sequence for each of the participant.
      All data were analysed using SPSS version 24. A series of hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to determine whether the Overall FMSs (Total Overall FMS Score including Balance) along with its associated scores (Locomotor Skills (Raw Locomotor Score with Vertical Jump), Object Control Skills (Raw Object Control Score with One-Handed Strike), and Stability) accounted for incremental variance in cognitive functioning specifically attention switching, reaction time, rapid visual information processing, spatial working memory, and emotion recognition, after controlling for covariates (Age; Gender; Socio Economic Status (SES)). In this hierarchical regression analysis, ΔR2 represented the increase in the proportion of variance in the criterion variable explained from step N − 1 to step N. The sample size of 60 was sufficient to detect moderate to large relationships (i.e., f2 = 0.23) between the criterion variables and the primary predictors.
      • Faul F.
      • Erdfelder E.
      • Buchner A.
      • et al.
      Statistical power analyses using G*Power 3.1: tests for correlation and regression analyses.

      3. Results

      Table 2 shows the means, standard deviations, and ranges for the study variables.
      Table 2Means, SDs, and range of scores for the study variables.
      MeanSDRange
      Locomotor Skills
      Raw score.
      47.756.9229–58
      Object Control Skills
      Raw score.
      38.607.899–52
      Stability
      Raw score.
      6.681.692–8
      Overall FMSs
      Raw score.
      93.0311.7865–116
      Attention Switching – ASTLCMD
      Raw score.
      731.62114.89502.0–1004.0
      Attention Switching – ASTLSWMD
      Raw score.
      879.62161.24595.0–1310.5
      Reaction Time – RTISMDRT
      Raw score.
      382.4549.20267.0–510.0
      Reaction Time – RTIFMDRT
      Raw score.
      426.7452.33331.0–528.0
      Sustained Attention – RVPA
      Raw score.
      0.930.050.75–0.99
      Sustained Attention – RVPMDL
      Raw score.
      391.7899.17171.5–668.0
      Spatial Working Memory – SWMBE
      Raw score.
      19.407.581.0–35.0
      Spatial Working Memory – SWMS
      Raw score.
      8.931.623.0–12.0
      Emotional Recognition – ERTOMDRT
      Raw score.
      1385.75366.32811.5–2398.5
      Emotional Recognition – ERTTH
      Raw score.
      Total number of correct responses. Overall FMSs, Overall Functional Movement Skills; Attention Switching – ASTLCMD, Median Latency of Response on Congruent Trials; Attention Switching – ASTLSWMD, Median Latency of Response in Assessed Block(s) in Which the Rule is Switching; Reaction Time – RTIFMDRT, Reaction Time Median Five-Choice Reaction Time; Reaction Time – RTISMDRT, Reaction Time Median Simple-Choice Reaction Time; Sustained Attention – RVPA, Rapid Visual Information Processing Accuracy; Sustained Attention – RVPMDL, Rapid Visual Information Processing Median Response Latency; Spatial Working Memory – SWMBE, Spatial Working Memory Between Errors; Spatial Working Memory – SWMS, Spatial Working Memory Strategy; Emotional Recognition – ERTOMDRT, Emotional Recognition Task Overall Median Reaction Time; Emotional Recognition – ERTTH, Emotional Recognition Task Total Hits.
      41.2810.6720.0–61.0
      Age
      Raw score.
      9.941.287.4–12.3
      a Raw score.
      b Total number of correct responses. Overall FMSs, Overall Functional Movement Skills; Attention Switching – ASTLCMD, Median Latency of Response on Congruent Trials; Attention Switching – ASTLSWMD, Median Latency of Response in Assessed Block(s) in Which the Rule is Switching; Reaction Time – RTIFMDRT, Reaction Time Median Five-Choice Reaction Time; Reaction Time – RTISMDRT, Reaction Time Median Simple-Choice Reaction Time; Sustained Attention – RVPA, Rapid Visual Information Processing Accuracy; Sustained Attention – RVPMDL, Rapid Visual Information Processing Median Response Latency; Spatial Working Memory – SWMBE, Spatial Working Memory Between Errors; Spatial Working Memory – SWMS, Spatial Working Memory Strategy; Emotional Recognition – ERTOMDRT, Emotional Recognition Task Overall Median Reaction Time; Emotional Recognition – ERTTH, Emotional Recognition Task Total Hits.
      The correlations between the criterion variables, predictors, and control variables are shown in Table 3.
      Table 3Zero-order correlation matrix for the key and control variables.
      Locomotor SkillsObject Control SkillsStabilityOverall FMSsAgeGenderSES
      Locomotor Skills
      Object Control Skills0.168
      Stability0.2030.102
      Overall FMSs0.729
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.783
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.331
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      Age0.1450.458
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.282
      p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      0.433
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      Gender0.169τ−0.346τ
      p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      0.299τ
      p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      −0.061τ−0.065τ
      SES0.095τ0.237τ0.155τ0.160τ0.190τ0.019τ
      Attention Switching – ASTLCMD−0.181−0.336
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.299
      p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      −0.374
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.507
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.032τ−0.234τ
      Attention Switching – ASTLSWMD−0.187−0.256
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.148−0.302
      p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      −0.387
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.032τ−0.118τ
      Reaction Time – RTISMDRT−0.232−0.354
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.354
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.424
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.519
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.078τ−0.139τ
      Reaction Time – RTIFMDRT−0.159−0.421
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.320
      p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      −0.422
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.581
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.095τ−0.352τ
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      Sustained Attention – RVPA0.0540.0300.2420.0860.485
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.065τ−0.020τ
      Sustained Attention – RVPMDL−0.176−0.147−0.216−0.232−0.392
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.086τ−0.157τ
      Spatial Working Memory – SWMBE−0.061−0.083−0.246−0.127−0.471
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      −0.123τ−0.024τ
      Spatial Working Memory – SWMS−0.205−0.124−0.137−0.223−0.262
      p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      −0.038τ−0.055τ
      Emotional Recognition – ERTOMDRT0.200−0.059−0.2440.043−0.264
      p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      0.067τ−0.040τ
      Emotional Recognition – ERTTH−0.0430.1560.441
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.142−0.398
      p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      0.091τ−0.107τ
      τ = non-parametric test (Spearman's Rank).
      Overall FMSs, Overall Functional Movement Skills; SES, Socio-Economic Status of School (DEIS, Non-DEIS); Attention Switching – ASTLCMD, Median Latency of Response on Congruent Trials; Attention Switching – ASTLSWMD, Median Latency of Response in Assessed Block(s) in Which the Rule is Switching; Reaction Time – RTIFMDRT, Reaction Time Median Five-Choice Reaction Time; Reaction Time – RTISMDRT, Reaction Time Median Simple-Choice Reaction Time; Sustained Attention – RVPA, Rapid Visual Information Processing Accuracy; Sustained Attention – RVPMDL, Rapid Visual Information Processing Median Response Latency; Spatial Working Memory – SWMBE, Spatial Working Memory Between Errors; Spatial Working Memory – SWMS, Spatial Working Memory Strategy; Emotional Recognition – ERTOMDRT, Emotional Recognition Task Overall Median Reaction Time; Emotional Recognition – ERTTH, Emotional Recognition Task Total Hits.
      low asterisklow asterisk p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
      low asterisk p < 0.05 (two-tailed).
      As expected, there were strong correlations between Overall FMSs and Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, and Stability, respectively (see Table 3). Overall FMSs and each of its associated scores were included in each of the models. Only those proposed covariates (i.e., age; gender; SES) that were significantly associated with Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, Stability, and/or Overall FMSs were included in the hierarchical regression analyses. Age was entered first (SES was also included for the RTIFMDRT variable) (Table 3 indicates that these were the only covariates) followed by Overall FMSs, Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, or Stability, respectively.
      Attention switching. After controlling for age, Overall FMSs explained no additional variance in ASTLCMD (ΔR2 = 0.032; p = 0.13). Similarly, Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, or Stability was not found to explain any additional variance over and above that already explained by age in ASTLCMD, ΔR2 = 0.016; p = 0.34, ΔR2 = 0.014; p = 0.30 and ΔR2 = 0.033; p = 0.15, respectively.
      After controlling for age, Overall FMSs explained no additional variance in ASTLSWMD (ΔR2 = 0.021; p = 0.21). Similarly, Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, or Stability was not found to explain any additional variance over and above that already explained by age in ASTLSWMD, ΔR2 = 0.020; p = 0.28, ΔR2 = 0.007; p = 0.46 and ΔR2 = 0.002; p = 0.74, respectively. Table 4 summarises the regression results for the attention switching task.
      Table 4Statistics for hierarchical multiple regression analyses predicting reaction time from Overall FMSs, Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, and Stability scores (n = 60).
      Attention switching outcomes
      ASTLCMDASTLSWMD
      B95 % CIsr2p-ValueB95 % CIsr2p-Value
      Model 1 predictors
       Age3.000.50, 5.500.1870.00
      <0.01.
      3.411.06, 5.760.1870.00
      <0.01.
       Overall FMSs−0.02−0.04, −0.000.0320.13−0.01−0.03, 0.000.0210.21
       Total R20.2190.00
      <0.01.
      0.2090.00
      <0.01.
      Model 2 predictors
       Age0.51−7.14, 33.970.0210.260.46−1.05, 1.980.0210.26
       Locomotor Skills−0.27−1.47, −0.010.0160.34−0.00−0.01, 0.000.0280.28
       Total R20.0370.340.0410.30
      Model 3 predictors
       Age2.380.71, 4.050.2100.00
      <0.01.
      2.601.03, 4.160.2100.00
      <0.01.
       Object Control Skills−0.01−0.02, 0.000.0140.30−0.00−0.01, 0.000.0070.46
       Total R20.2240.00
      <0.01.
      0.2170.00
      <0.01.
      Model 4 predictors
       Age0.23−0.15, 0.610.0790.02
      <0.05.
      0.34−0.01, 0.710.0790.02
      <0.05.
       Stability−0.00−0.00, 0.000.0330.150.00−0.00, 0.000.0020.74
       Total R20.1120.03
      <0.05.
      0.0810.09
      B, unstandardized regression coefficient; CI, confidence interval; sr2, the part correlation squared; Attention Switching – ASTLCMD, Median Latency of Response on Congruent Trials; Attention Switching – ASTLSWMD, Median Latency of Response in Assessed Block(s) in Which the Rule is Switching; Overall FMSs, Overall Functional Movement Skills.
      low asterisklow asterisk <0.01.
      low asterisk <0.05.
      Reaction time. After controlling for age, Overall FMS score explained a significant 5.5 % of the variance in reaction time in the median simple-choice reaction time task (RTISMDMT) (ΔR2 = 0.055; p = 0.04). Locomotor Skills and Object Control Skills were not found to explain any additional variance over and above that already explained by age in RTISMDMT, ΔR2 = 0.034; p = 0.16 and ΔR2 = 0.019; p = 0.24, respectively. Although not quite significant (p = 0.05), Stability was found to explain a significant 5.9 % of the variance in RTISMDMT (ΔR2 = 0.059; p = 0.05). Table 4 summarises the regression results for the reaction time task.
      After controlling for the two covariates (SES was found to be correlated with reaction time in the median five-choice reaction time task (RTIFMDMT)), Overall FMSs explained no additional variance in RTIFMDMT (ΔR2 = 0.037; p = 0.10). Similarly, Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, or Stability was not found to explain any additional variance over and above that already explained by the covariates in RTIFMDMT, ΔR2 = 0.012; p = 0.40, ΔR2 = 0.001; p = 0.80, ΔR2 = 0.026; p = 0.20, respectively (Table 5) .
      Table 5Statistics for hierarchical multiple regression analyses predicting reaction time from Overall FMSs, Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, and Stability scores (n = 60).
      Reaction time outcomes
      RTISMDRTRTIFMDRT
      B95 % CIsr2p-ValueB95 % CIsr2p-Value
      Model 1 predictors
       Age2.670.18, 5.150.1870.00
      <0.01.
      2.61−0.03, 5.260.1870.00
      <0.01.
       SES1.03−5.62, 7.700.0080.44
       Overall FMSs−0.06−0.13, −0.000.0550.04
      <0.05.
      −0.05−0.12, 0.010.0370.10
       Total R20.2420.00
      <0.01.
      0.2320.00
      <0.01.
      Model 2 predictors
       Age0.18−1.44, 1.810.0210.260.41−1.32, 2.150.0210.26
       SES−1.65−6.02, 2.720.0050.59
       Locomotor Skills−0.03−0.07, 0.010.0340.16−0.01−0.06, 0.020.0130.38
       Total R20.0550.200.0390.51
      Model 3 predictors
       Age2.310.63, 3.980.2100.00
      <0.01.
      2.000.26, 3.740.2100.00
      <0.01.
       SES2.34−2.03, 6.710.0290.14
       Object Control Skills−0.02−0.06, 0.010.0190.24−0.02−0.07, 0.010.0230.19
       Total R20.2010.00
      <0.01.
      0.2620.00
      <0.01.
      Model 4 predictors
       Age0.17−0.20, 0.550.0790.02
      <0.05.
      0.19−0.21, 0.600.0790.02
      <0.05.
       SES0.34−0.67, 1.370.0180.28
       Stability−0.01−0.02, 0.000.0590.05−0.00−0.01, 0.000.0260.20
       Total R20.1380.01
      <0.01.
      0.1240.05
      B, unstandardized regression coefficient; CI, confidence interval; sr2, the part correlation squared; Reaction Time – RTISMDRT, Reaction Time Median Simple-Choice Reaction Time; Reaction Time – RTIFMDRT, Reaction Time Median Five-Choice Reaction Time; Overall FMSs, Overall Functional Movement Skills; SES, Socio-Economic Status of School (DEIS, Non-DEIS).
      low asterisklow asterisk <0.01.
      low asterisk <0.05.
      Emotional recognition. After controlling for age, Overall FMSs explained no additional variance in ERTTH (ΔR2 = 0.037; p = 0.10). Locomotor Skills and Object Control Skills were not found to explain any additional variance over and above that already explained by age in ERTTH, ΔR2 = 0.012; p = 0.40 and ΔR2 = 0.001; p = 0.80, respectively. However, Stability was found to explain a significant 12.9 % of the variance in ERTTH (ΔR2 = 0.129; p = 0.00). Table 6 summarises the regression results for the emotional recognition task.
      Table 6Statistics for hierarchical multiple regression analyses predicting emotional recognition from Overall FMSs, Locomotor Skills, Object Control Skills, and Stability scores (n = 60).
      Emotional recognition outcomes
      ERTTH
      B95 % CIsr2p-Value
      Model 1 predictors
       Age4.101.71, 6.500.1870.00
      <0.01.
       Overall FMSs−0.03−0.32, 0.240.0010.78
       Total R20.1880.00
      <0.01.
      Model 2 predictors
       Age1.04−0.49, 2.570.0210.26
       Locomotor Skills−0.07−0.26, 0.100.0120.40
       Total R20.0330.38
      Model 3 predictors
       Age2.891.31, 4.480.2100.00
      <0.01.
       Object Control Skills−0.02−0.21, 0.160.0010.80
       Total R20.2110.00
      <0.01.
      Model 4 predictors
       Age0.16−0.17, 0.500.0790.02
      <0.05.
       Stability0.060.02, 0.100.1290.00
      <0.01.
       Total R20.2080.00
      <0.01.
      B, unstandardized regression coefficient; CI, confidence interval; sr2, the part correlation squared; Emotional Recognition – ERTTH, Emotional Recognition Task Total Hits; Overall FMSs, Overall Functional Movement Skills.
      low asterisklow asterisk <0.01.
      low asterisk <0.05.

      4. Discussion

      The present study aimed to determine if FMSs predicted cognitive function among a sample of primary school children in Ireland. It was found that Overall FMSs accounted for a significant proportion of the variance in simple reaction time (5.5 %) but not in attention, spatial working memory, emotional recognition, or choice reaction time when accounting for age, gender, and SES. Stability was also found to account for a significant proportion of the variance in emotional recognition (12.9 %). These results suggest that Overall FMSs may be more closely related to reaction time than attention and spatial working memory whilst stability may be particularly associated with emotional recognition.
      Object Control Skills, Stability and Overall FMSs were all found to be significantly moderately negatively associated with both simple and choice reaction times. However, FMSs were found to predict simple reaction time but not choice reaction time. Reaction times, the intervals between exposure to an external stimulus and a response, are considered at the most basic level an indicator of the processing speed of the nervous system.
      • Klotz J.M.
      • Johnson M.D.
      • Wu S.W.
      • et al.
      Relationship between reaction time variability and motor skill development in ADHD.
      Reaction speeds involve a combination of consistently attending and efficiently engaging the motor system.
      • Klotz J.M.
      • Johnson M.D.
      • Wu S.W.
      • et al.
      Relationship between reaction time variability and motor skill development in ADHD.
      As such, it is reasonable to propose that those with better FMSs as well as better Stability skills would have faster response times due to their ability to sense shifts in body positions and rapidly adjust and maintain equilibrium within the body in response to compensating movements.
      • Gallahue D.L.
      • Ozmun J.C.
      • Goodway J.
      Understanding Motor Development: Infants, Children, Adolescents, Adults.
      In their longitudinal study on children aged 5–7 years with and without motor coordination impairments, Michel et al.
      • Michel E.
      • Roethlisberger M.
      • Neuenschwander R.
      • et al.
      Development of cognitive skills in children with motor coordination impairments at 12-month follow-up.
      found that children with poor motor coordination were not slower in a simple reaction time task. Moreover, it was found that performance on cognitive tasks was not less accurate but overall slower compared to those without motor coordination impairments, with the authors purporting that those in the impairment group performed slower because of the complex task demands, including the necessity to react as fast and as accurate as possible.
      In line with the existing literature, performance on the attention switching task was found in this study to be moderately positively associated with both Object Control Skills and Overall FMSs. In their study of 238 children aged between 6 and 15 years, Piek and colleagues
      • Piek J.P.
      • Dyck M.J.
      • Nieman A.
      • et al.
      The relationship between motor coordination, executive functioning and attention in school aged children.
      found a strong association between attention and motor control. Michel et al.
      • Michel E.
      • Roethlisberger M.
      • Neuenschwander R.
      • et al.
      Development of cognitive skills in children with motor coordination impairments at 12-month follow-up.
      also found that children with poorer motor coordination performed worse in an attention switching task (Cognitive Flexibility task). Furthermore, children with motor problems often have attentional issues and vice versa
      • Pitcher T.M.
      • Piek J.P.
      • Hay D.A.
      Fine and gross motor ability in males with ADHD.
      thus suggesting a close interaction between the two variables. Whilst FMS was associated with attention switching, it was not found to predict performance on the attention switching task in the current study. However, the close association between attention and motor coordination potentially suggests that they may share some common underlying neurocognitive mechanism.
      • Piek J.P.
      • Dyck M.J.
      • Nieman A.
      • et al.
      The relationship between motor coordination, executive functioning and attention in school aged children.
      The neural circuits recruited by both motor coordination and executive attention comprise the prefrontal cortex (PFC)
      • Diamond A.
      Close interrelation of motor development and cognitive development and of the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex.
      and are purported to be co-activated and significantly interrelated.
      • Roebers C.M.
      • Kauer M.
      Motor and cognitive control in a normative sample of 7-year-olds.
      ,
      • Diamond A.
      Close interrelation of motor development and cognitive development and of the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex.
      According to Roebers and Kauer,
      • Roebers C.M.
      • Kauer M.
      Motor and cognitive control in a normative sample of 7-year-olds.
      this interrelation may indicate common processes in complex cognitive and motor actions potentially suggesting that there are shared higher order cognitive processes involved in cognitive executive tasks and motor coordination tasks.
      Stability is considered the most basic skills within the FMS family and is defined as the ability to sense a shift in the relationship of the body parts that alter one's balance.
      • Gallahue D.L.
      • Ozmun J.C.
      • Goodway J.
      Understanding Motor Development: Infants, Children, Adolescents, Adults.
      In the present study, Stability was found to explain a significant 12.9 % of the variance in the emotional recognition task. Interestingly, King-Dowling and colleagues
      • King-Dowling S.
      • Missiuna C.
      • Rodriguez M.C.
      • et al.
      Co-occurring motor, language and emotional-behavioral problems in children 3-6 years of age.
      found that children aged 3–6 years who were found to have poor motor coordination also tended to have more emotional and behavioural problems (e.g., increased aggression, withdrawn symptoms) compared with their typically developing peers. James and colleagues
      • James M.E.
      • Bedard C.
      • Bremer E.
      • et al.
      The acceptability and feasibility of a preschool intervention targeting motor, social, and emotional development.
      conducted an exploratory study to assess the impact of the Move 2 Smile programme on FMSs and social-emotional learning with parents reporting considerable positive impacts of the programme on ability to recognise and also express emotions. Functional neuroimaging studies on humans found that motor skill learning was associated with activation of many brain areas in the frontoparietal cortices, an area of the brain particularly associated with recognition of emotions.
      • Adolphs R.
      Neural systems for recognizing emotion.
      In another study among thirty 10–13-year-old boys, it was found that those with greater emotional intelligence were found to have greater motor proficiency.
      • Mohammadi Oranghi B.
      • Ghadiri F.
      • Aghdasi M.
      • et al.
      The effect of local indigenous games on motor proficiency in elemental boys in Tehran with high and low emotional intelligence.
      Furthermore, Piek et al.
      • Piek J.P.
      • Barrett N.C.
      • Smith L.M.
      • et al.
      Do motor skills in infancy and early childhood predict anxious and depressive symptomatology at school age?.
      found that between the ages of 4 months and 4 years, gross motor skill development is significantly related to anxiety and depression scores and that failure to achieve specific motor millstones results in greater anxiety and depression in school-aged children.
      The current study has some limitations. This research cannot determine the directional relationship between the motor and cognitive domains. There is some evidence to suggest that motor development may predict cognitive performance however, further longitudinal research is warranted. It is also important to note that in attempting to interpret the results from this study, other variables may have played an influencing role (e.g., processing speed, motivation) which could have impacted results.
      • Rigoli D.
      • Piek J.P.
      • Kane R.
      • et al.
      An examination of the relationship between motor coordination and executive functions in adolescents.
      Whilst the current sample size was sufficient to detect some relationships, it is suggested that research could benefit from exploring these relationships with a greater sample size. However, whilst a larger sample size would be desirable, the time intense nature of the assessment for both the participant and assessor, as well as the assessment costs per user, must be considered.

      5. Conclusion

      The findings from this research suggest specific relationships between Overall FMSs and its associated skills, and cognitive function specifically attention switching, reaction time, and emotional recognition. It is possible that the specific relationships found in the present study may be assumed through shared neural mechanisms, namely, cerebellar processes. Only simple reaction time and emotional recognition were found to significantly predict FMSs. The current results have practical implications when considering interventions for some FMSs and/or cognitive functioning. Further research on the collective relations between FMSs and a broad range of developmental outcomes (i.e., cognitive development; social–emotional development) is warranted. Greater comprehension of the impact of skills such as spatial working memory and emotional recognition on learning and cognition in children can contribute to the design and development of more effective and efficient physical exercise programmes which can contribute and promote not just physical and social development but also enhance children's cognition.

      Funding information

      This publication has emanated from research supported in part by a research grant from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) under Grant Number SFI/12/RC/2289 , co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund , with assistance from the GAA's Research and Games Development department and Dublin GAA.

      Declaration of interest statement

      None.

      Confirmation of ethical compliance

      Ethical approval from the institution's Research Ethics Committee was obtained (DCU/REC/2017/029). Parental consent and participant assent were obtained. A unique numerical code was assigned to all participants to ensure that their anonymity was maintained.

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