Artes Marciais na Science

Science 21 October 2011:
Vol. 334 no. 6054 pp. 310-311
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6054.310-c


Martial Arts Research: Weak Evidence

The Review “Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4 to 12 years old” by A. Diamond and K. Lee (special section on Investing Early in Education, 19 August, p. 959) cited work that close examination shows to be weak. Some of the studies (1, 2) were randomized, but they failed to meet other criteria such as blinding of teachers and parents to pupils’ treatment groups. Studies involving martial arts and physical exercise were particularly weak on isolation of variables. One study on martial arts training for children (1) compared a treatment group who wore special uniforms, meditated, bowed to their instructor, and were reminded of self-awareness and self-control, to a control group who continued with their ordinary physical education activities; these authors concluded that when some improvement on some scales occurred for the treatment group, the change was caused by the self-awareness and self-control messages, rather than by other ways the two groups differed. Another study (2) compared children who did “sport stacking,” a bimanual physical task, with a control group that did not experience any exciting new activity, and concluded that improvement on one of two reading measures was caused by the stacking task.

A relevant volume dealing with treatments for developmental disabilities (3) stressed the weakness of evidence for special education interventions and described some such conditions as “fad magnets.” Unfortunately, early educational interventions seem to be similarly weak in evidence. The stakes are high and the resources scarce in both cases.

  1. 1.      Jean Mercer

+ Author Affiliations

  1. 1.      Richard Stockton College, Pomona, NJ 08240, USA.
  2. E-mail:


    1. K. D. Lakes,
    2. W. T. Hoyt

, Appl. Dev. Psychol. 25, 283 (2004).


    1. T. A. Uhrich,
    2. R. L. Swalm

, Percept. Mot. Skills 104, 1935 (2007).

    1. J. W. Jacobson,
    2. R. M. Foxx,
    3. J. A. Mulick

, Controversial Therapies for Developmental Disabilities (Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, 2005).


Science 21 October 2011:
Vol. 334 no. 6054 p. 310
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6054.310-b


Martial Arts Research: Prudent Skepticism

A. Diamond and K. Lee’s review “Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4 to 12 years old” (special section on Investing Early in Education, 19 August, p. 959) leaves the impression that martial arts training as usually delivered enhances executive functions. This is far from established. Martial arts training is a heterogeneous independent variable with average effects that may be negligible or even negative.

Diamond and Lee cite two studies in support of martial arts. In the Trulson study (which was based on 34 students and 1 instructor), the only outcome measures are the self-report personality inventories completed by the “delinquent” students (1). Trulson concluded that the meditation, contemplation of goals, and other noncombat components of martial arts are helpful, but pure competitive fight training is harmful. The Lake and Hoyt study (207 students and 1 instructor) found the most positive effects on a measure of behavior during completion of an obstacle course (2). With teacher ratings, however, insignificant effects were reported for four out of five variables, including self-control.

Longitudinal studies observing the results of many instructors lead to skepticism about the effects of martial arts training. Endresen and Olweus (3), using a longitudinal design, reported that “participation in power sports [including martial arts] actually leads to an increase or enhancement of antisocial involvement in the form of elevated levels of violent as well as non-violent antisocial behavior outside sports.” We analyzed data from a large, nationally representative sample (4). The outcome variable was teacher-rated behavior, including self-control and attention. In each of our two main outcome analyses, we found that martial arts had no effect on behavior.

In a world beset by violence, there is irony and pathos in hoping that our children will be improved by teaching punching, kicking, and tripping. Unless the evidence for benefit is robust, it is prudent to be skeptical.

  1. 1.      Joseph M. Strayhorn1,
  2. 2.      Jillian C. Strayhorn2

+ Author Affiliations

  1. 1.      1Department of Psychiatry, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19129, USA.
  2. 2.      2Undergraduate, Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.
  3. To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:


    1. M. E. Trulson

, Hum. Relat. 39, 1131 (1986).

CrossRefWeb of Science

    1. K. D. Lakes,
    2. W. T. Hoyt

, Appl. Dev. Psychol. 25, 283 (2004).


    1. I. M. Endresen,
    2. D. Olweus

, J. Child Psychol. Psych. 46, 468 (2005).

CrossRefMedlineWeb of Science

    1. J. M. Strayhorn,
    2. J. C. Strayhorn

, J. Child Adolesc. Psychiatr. Ment. Health 3, 32 (2009).



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