The relationship between motor competence and core executive functions in typically developing school children

RICHARD TYLER*, Cassandra Richardson, Stuart J. Fairclough

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Emerging evidence suggests a relationship between motor and cognitive development. Cognitive functions are required to adapt motor outputs to the constraints of the body and environment to produce purposeful movement (perception-action cycle) (Leisman et al., 2016). Executive functions are a subset of higher-order cognitive functions that are involved in goal-directed motor outputs. Three core executive functions include: switching (mental set shifting), inhibition (inhibition of prepotent responses), and updating (information updating and monitoring of working memory) (Miyake et al., 2000). Although previous studies have found some relationships between motor skills and cognitive skills in healthy children, there is paucity of research in this field (van der Fels et al., 2015). The present study aimed to examine the relationship between motor competence and core executive functions. Following institutional ethical approval and written parent and participant consent/assent, data were collected from 139 children (48% boys; aged 10.3±0.5 years; height 141.5±7.4 cm; body mass 36.0±8.2 kg; 96% white British). Motor competence was measured using the Dragon Challenge (DC) which consists of nine tasks completed in a timed circuit, that require the application of different combinations of fundamental, combined and complex motor skills, to form refined goal-directed movement patterns (Tyler et al., 2018). Dragon Challenge score was calculated, with a larger score displaying higher motor competence. Children also completed three Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB; Barnett et al., 2015) tasks, the intra-extra dimensional set shift (IED; switching), multitasking test (MTT; inhibition) and spatial working memory (SWM; updating), on a touchscreen platform. Errors were recorded in each of the three core executive functions, with fewer errors showing greater performance. There was no statistically significant relationship between DC score and IED errors (p=.27) or MTT errors (p=.37). There was a statistically significant negative correlation between DC score and SWM errors, r(137)=-.19, p=.02. Partial correlation showed that the strength of this relationship was greater when BMI and age were controlled for (rpartial(135)=-.20, p=.02), with SWM errors accounting for 4.0% of the variation in DC score. A hierarchal multiple regression showed that sex did not moderate the relationship between SWM errors and DC score, as evidenced by a non-significant increase in total variation explained of 0.1% (F(1,135)=.14, p=.71). Initial results suggest that higher motor competence is associated with better performance on one core executive function. However, further investigations into the common underlying processes between motor competence and cognitive functions is warranted.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2019
EventBritish Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) Conference -
Duration: 19 Nov 201920 Nov 2019


ConferenceBritish Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) Conference


  • Sport
  • Exercise


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