Physically fit children show improved language skills, and of course they are generally healthier. According to a study by researchers from the University of Illinois, they also have faster and more robust neuro-electrical brain responses while reading. The findings were published in the Brain and Cognition journal.
The research doesn’t prove that there is a direct effect on the electical activity in the brain among more fit children. Instead it explains why physical fitness is associated with improved cognitive performance in a variety of tasks and language skills.
The difference between physically fit children and unfit children is that better language skills are obtained with children that are fit. The study also revealed no difference while the child was reading correct sentences or ones with errors.
“All we know is there is something different about higher and lower fit kids,” said University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Charles Hillman, who led the research with graduate student Mark Scudder and psychology professor Kara Federmeier. “Now whether that difference is caused by fitness or maybe some third variable that (affects) both fitness and language processing, we don’t know yet.”
The research consisted of using electroencephalography (EEG), placing an electrode cap on the head of the participant to capture the electrical impulses in the brain. The data was transferred to a readout which resembles the seismic readings during an earthquake. These lines are associated with different tasks performed by the person.
Event-related potentials (ERPs) is what these line patterns are called and vary with each person being evaluated. There are two brain waveforms — the N400 is associated with processing the meaning of words while reading a sentence and the P600 is associated with the grammatical rules of a sentence. For the study, these two waveforms were evaluated.