Psychology researchers from Bar-Ilan University have conducted a meta-analysis of studies to investigate what effects martial arts training had on youths’ aggression, anger, and violence.
A meta-analysis is a statistical method that allows researchers to test data from multiple studies. Previous research in the studies analyzed had examined a variety of martial art styles, including aikido, karate, taekwondo, and judo.
The findings of the study, "Reducing aggression with martial arts: A meta-analysis of child and youth studies", were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Aggression and Violent Behavior. The study is the research focus of Bar-Ilan doctoral student Anna Harwood, of the Department of Psychology, under the supervision of Dr. Uri Rassovsky.
Although a vast amount of research was analyzed there were so few empirical studies in the field that only twelve studies were deemed relevant for meta-analysis. The results of the meta-analysis, which combined data from 507 participants (ages 6 to 18), suggest that martial arts could reduce aggressive tendencies. According to the Bar-Ilan study, previous research clearly shows that traditional martial arts, where common themes of repetitive movements, controlled behaviors, and respect are key, are most beneficial in reducing anger and violent behaviors, as opposed to modern martial arts, which in fact can actually increase aggression.
According to Harwood, while martial arts have a lot of potential to curb aggressive behaviors and help at-risk youth and, in turn, may be efficacious as a rehabilitative intervention, there is a dearth of research to support this. "Our study shows that initial research is really promising. However, since the research studies were so varied, before we draw any groundbreaking conclusions we need to widen the research and make it much more scientifically rigorous."
Harwood, who brings previous criminology experience to this project, focuses her investigations on innovative rehabilitation programs. Her doctoral research looks at the effect that martial arts has on at-risk children. "I want to see not only whether martial arts training reduces aggression but if it also improves cognitive and psychological factors which may lead to this reduction."
Harwood believes that martial arts can be a cheap intervention of real benefit to a host of populations. However, she says, because there is little research it is difficult to fund these programs, and, thus, martial arts becomes a sport for those who can afford it. "If we can show a real benefit then it will be easier to fund and introduce to the kids and adults who really need it."
This research was supported by a grant from the Israel Ministry of Science, Technology and Space. Anna Harwood is a recipient of a Bar-Ilan University Presidential Doctoral Fellowship of Excellence.