Does Taekwondo improve children’s self-regulation? If so, how? A randomized field experiment

Terry Ng-Knight*, Katie A. Gilligan-Lee, Jessica Massonnié, Hanna Gaspard, Debbie Gooch, Dawn Querstret, Nicola Johnstone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Emerging evidence suggests interventions can improve childhood self-regulation. One intervention approach that has shown promise is Taekwondo martial arts instruction, though little is known about its acceptability among stakeholders or its mechanisms of effect. We extend evidence on Taekwondo interventions in three ways: (a) testing the efficacy of a standard introductory course of Taekwondo, (b) assessing the acceptability of Taekwondo instruction among school children, and (c) investigating two self-regulatory mechanisms by which Taekwondo may operate (executive functions and motivation). This article reports findings from a randomized control trial implementing a standard 11-week beginners’ course of Taekwondo. Participants were from a mixed-sex, nonselective U.K. primary school (N = 240, age range 7 to 11 years). Measures of self-regulation included teacher-rated effortful control, impulsivity, prosocial behavior, and conduct problems; computer-based assessments of executive functions; and child self-reported expectancies and values to use self-regulation. Postintervention, children in the Taekwondo condition were rated by teachers as having fewer symptoms of conduct problems and better effortful control (specifically attentional control), and they also had better executive attention assessed by a flanker task. Effects were not found for teacher-rated inhibitory control, activation control, impulsivity, and prosocial behavior or for assessments of response inhibition, verbal working memory, and switching. Taekwondo was rated very positively by children. Finally, there was evidence that children who completed Taekwondo classes reported higher expectancies and values to use self-regulation and that expectancies and values mediated intervention effects on self-regulation. We conclude that short standard Taekwondo courses are well received by pupils, improve attentional self-regulation, and reduce symptoms of conduct problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-534
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • executive functions
  • martial arts
  • self-control
  • self-regulation
  • Taekwondo
  • UKRI
  • ESRC


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