Effects of physical activity on cardiac-autonomic regulation, brain function, and cognition in children with ADHD

   Department of Psychology

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders among children, affecting 7.2% of children globally and 5% in the UK. In the UK, this means that at least 1-2 children have ADHD in a class of 30. Deficits in higher-order cognitions (e.g., inhibitory control, working memory, multi-tasking) represent the core deficits in ADHD, which could result in worse academic performance and highr risks of behavioural problems. In children with ADHD, physical activity has been shown to improve higher-order cognitions, academic performance, and psychosocial behaviours. However, the potential mechanisms underlying the positive effects of physical activity are underexplored. Further, to date the effective protocols of physical activity that can maximize physical activity induced cognitive and physical benefits remain to be elucidated. A better understanding of the effective protocols of physical activity as well as the underlying mechanisms will enable the development of effective lifestyle interventions and strategies to benefit cognition, learning, and health in children with ADHD.

To this end, this project will have two major aims. First, we aim to establish the neurophysiological and psychobiological changes that can drive the effects of physical activity on physical health, cognition, and learning by studying the cardiac-autonomic regulation mediated by the interplay between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. Cardiac-autonomic regulation plays a vital role in modulating attention, cognition, and arousal given the connection between brain regions that are involved in higher-order cognitive processes (e.g., prefrontal cortex, amygdala) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS) comprises of parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. Individuals with ADHD has been shown to show deficits in cardiac-autonomic regulation. As such, we will be using resting state and in-task heart-rate variability (HRV), a measure of beat-to-beat variation in heart rates, to capture cardiac-autonomic regulation and to see how this regulation can be modulated by different protocols of physical activity. Further, we will be using specific EEG components evoked by different computerized tasks to study different cognitive processes. The second aim of the project will be to seek effective protocols of physical activity that can maximize the physical activity induced benefits to brain, cognition, and health. Specifically, we will be looking at the effects of traditional physical activity, such as aerobic-based physical activity (e.g., brisk walking on a treadmill), and cognitive-motor physical activities (e.g., football, exergames, etc) across brain function, cognition, and cardiac-autonomic regulation. Our overarching goal is to address the differential effects of different protocols of physical activity on cardiac-autonomic regulation, cognition, and academic performance in children with ADHD. A secondary goal of the project will be the understanding of neurocognitive and psychobiological underpinnings of ADHD symptomology.

Overall, the project will provide expertise in a range of techniques that will assess fitness (e.g., VO2max, muscular fitness, motor skills), cardiac-autonomic regulation (e.g., HRV), neuroelectric biomarkers (e.g., EEG), psychopathological behaviours (e.g., externalizing and internalizing problems), and academic attainment. The project will also provide expertise in implementing and administrating different protocols of physical activity and exercise trainings (e.g., aerobic exercise, cognitive-motor exercise, exergames). The research will be conducted in a multi-disciplinary team across the Department of Psychology and Department of Applied and Human Sciences at Kingston University, as well as potential external collaborators withing (e.g., King’s College London) and outside the UK (e.g., University of Basel). The exact program of work will be established between the candidate and the lead supervisor following selection.

Up to two PhD positions are available for this project. Candidates should have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant area to the project, such as sport science, psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, behavioural science. Applicants will have excellent practical lab skills and interpersonal skills for working with child volunteers and colleagues across different research disciplines. A Master’s degree or equivalent or other evidence of research skills and experience is preferred but not essential. Also, experience in code writing (e.g., MATLAB) is desirable but not essential.

Applications are accepted all year around. Prospective students should email Dr. Hsieh () with your CV and a brief summary of your research experience and interests. Such communication will allow for clarification of issues regarding research opportunities, funding, and other issues that you might have questions about.

Relevant papers to support this project:

  1. Chueh, T. Y., Hsieh, S. S., Tsai, Y. J., Yu, C. L., Hung, C. L., Benzing, V., …& Hung, T. M. (2022). Effects of a single bout of moderate- to vigorous physical activity on executive functions in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 58: 102097.
  2. Chueh, T. Y., Hsieh, S. S., Tsai, Y. J., Yu, C. L., Huang, C. J., & Hung, T. M. (2021). The relationship between internalizing problems and acute exercise duration in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: the role of frontal alpha asymmetry. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 118: 104063.
  3. Tsai, Y. J., Hsieh, S. S., Huang, C. J., & Hung, T. M. (2021). Dose-response effects of acute aerobic exercise intensity on inhibitory control in children with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15: 617596.
  4. Yu, C. L., Hsieh, S. S., Chueh, T. Y., Huang, C. J., Hillman, C. H., & Hung, T. M. (2020). The effects of acute aerobic exercise on inhibitory control and resting-state heart rate variability in children with ADHD. Scientific Reports, 10: 19958.
  5. Hsieh, S. S., Chueh, T. Y., Morris, T. P., Kao, S. C., Westfall, D. R., Raine, L. B., …& Hillman, C. H. (2020). Greater childhood cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with better top-down cognitive control: a midfrontal theta oscillation study. Psychophysiology, 57: e13678.
  6. Yu, C. L., Chueh, T. Y., Hsieh, S. S., Tsai, Y. J., Hung, C. L., Huang, C. J., …& Hung, T. M. (2019). Motor competence moderates relationship between moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and resting EEG in children with ADHD. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 17: 100302.

Funding Notes

There is no funding directly related to this project at this moment. Students should work with the lead supervisor to seek external and internal research grants. RA opportunity may be available depends on funding opportunities.


Dr. Hsieh's lab webpage (Brain, Resilience, Exercise, and Development Lab) https://sites.google.com/view/breadlab/home?authuser=0

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