By Wid Alshaikh
Studies are still inconclusive regarding the effects of standing on work performance. Four studies were done to see if performance on a typing task was impacted with the use of sit-stand desks. Ebara et al. (2008) found that performance was not impacted with use of less than 150 min. However, typing performance decreased when the use exceeded 150 min per day. No significant changes in typing performance were found between sitting and standing postures in the other three studies (Drury et al., 2008; Beers et al., 2008; Straker et al., 2009).
Previous research has shown that a mild dose of stress can increase ones’ cognitive performance. A study by Rosenbaum et al. (2018) has shown that standing introduces just enough stress to increase cognitive performance.
In this study I examined the effects of standing on intelligence task performance in young adults. Many different tests and tools are used in predicting students’ academic success. These include tests of short-term memory, working memory, processing speed, controlled attention, and a few others (Colom et al., 2007). However, a report by Neisser et al. (1996) found that intelligence task performance is the best predictor of academic performance. Interestingly, gender has not been determined to have a major influence on intelligence task performance (Tschernegg et al., 2017).
Two years ago, my father suffered from back pain. He is among a surprising 85% of working adults who can expect such an injury in their lifetime (Cassidy, Carroll & Côté, 1998). The physiotherapist suggested that my father begin using a sit-stand desk while working. I was curious to know whether standing affected his work performance. Being unable to find any information or studies that examined the effect standing had on performance, I set out to try to further understand this topic myself. This project aims to understand the effects of standing on students in grade 9-10 compared to grade 11-12 on their performance on intelligence tasks.
My hypothesis is that standing has a positive effect on students’ general intelligence task performance regardless of grade. This hypothesis was based one of the results of my previous project, where the majority of students scored higher while standing.
This research required a timer (10min), consent forms, 4 tables, a survey, and 2 similarly leveled intelligence tests. Each test had 20 questions which include spatial reasoning (“Spatial Reasoning Test”, 2018), non-verbal reasoning, number series (Kidsfront, 2018), and math (“Math Word Problem Test”, 2018). The questions were gathered using three online intelligence tests and “The complete book of intelligence tests” (Carter, 2013). See Figure 1 for an example question. The participants in this study were 31 students attending grades 9-12 from Al Taqwa Academy.
I tested 4 students at a time, regardless of their sitting or standing positions. Participants first sat, then stood. They were given 10 minutes to complete as many questions as possible. The students filled out their surveys after completing the tests to indicate which work position they preferred.
I conducted a paired t-test to compare students’ performance between sitting and standing in grade 9-10 and in grade 11-12. There was no significant difference in the scores between sitting (M=6.25, SD=2.82) and standing (M=6, SD=2.49) in grade 9 and 10; t(19)=0.64,p=0.53, and in grade 11 and 12 ;t(10)=-0.22,p=0.83.
I found that in the younger grades (9 and 10), the results were evenly distributed (Figure 2): 33% scored better standing, 33% scored better sitting, and 33% showed no difference. Interestingly, in the older group in the study (grade 11 and 12) 54.54% of the students scored higher while standing, 36.36% scored better while sitting, and 9.09% showed no difference.
The percentage of females who increased their scores while standing (33%) was greater than the percentage of males whose scores increased while standing (25%) in the youngest group (grade 9 and 10) (Figure 3a). On the contrary, the percentage of males that increased performance (60%) was slightly higher than the percentage of females that increased performance (50%) in the older group included in this study (grade 11 and 12) (Figure 3b). The effect of gender on intelligence task performance while standing may need to be further investigated in future studies.
The students were categorized into 2 main groups; grade 9 through 10 and grade 11 through 12. Each group was subsequently divided into males and females.
The results of this study show that there is no significant difference in the scores between sitting and standing. Interestingly, students’ preference results were similar to the results of their scored performance. The percentage of students in grade 9-10 who scored better while standing (33%), scored better while sitting (33%), and scored equally in both (33%) was equal in each category. However, the percentage of them who preferred sitting was higher than the percentage of them who preferred standing. The students in grade 11-12 preferences were in coherence with their results: 54.54% of them increased their score while standing and 62% of them preferred standing. This shows that either their preferences affected their scored performance, or the position in which they believe they performed best was their preference.
In this study, 31 students were tested on their intelligence task performance while standing and sitting. The results of this study were in line with previous research that concluded sit-stand desks have positive effects on students physically and mentally. The results of this study show that there is no significant difference in students score between sitting and standing. In fact, the percentage of grade 11-12 students who scored better while standing was higher than the percentage of students scored better while sitting. Therefore, this study adds to the body of research that supports a change in the classroom and work environments.
For my project last year, I examined the effects of standing on 113 students’ math performance. I hypothesized that standing would have positive effects on students’ math performance, regardless of grade and gender. For the study I needed sit-stand desks, so I collaborated with Ergotron and Sit Kickers. They then sent out the desks I needed. I put together a total of six math tests (mental math) which were divided into 3 categories: grade 4, grades 5-6, and grades 7-8. I subtracted each students’ sitting score from their standing score and determined how many students increased, decreased, and had no change in their score. I also found the discrepancy in average scores of the students sitting as opposed to standing. The results of the study showed that the majority of students scored higher on the math test while standing.
In my study, I measured the effects of standing on students’ intelligence task performance for only 10 minutes. As seen by previous studies ones performance begins to decline after the user exceeds 150 min of use.
The recommended time to use a sit-stand desk is in 30 minute intervals of sitting and standing.
In addition, in my trials I tested the students in the sitting position first, rather than alternating or choosing the order randomly. This could have potentially affected the results.
I would like to test students for a longer period of time. I would also like to recommend 30 minutes standing 30 minutes sitting. I would also like to examine the effects of standing on students’ performance in many other tasks, such as memory and attention tasks. I would like to implement randomized cross testing by dividing the participants randomly into two groups and having one group take the test standing first and the other group take the test while sitting first.
I would like to thank Ergotron and Sit Kicker for providing the tables for this study and Dr. Areej Balilah who supervised this project. I would also like to thank The Thames Valley Science and Engineering fair, my family, Al Taqwa Academy, and my teachers for their support throughout this project.
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About the Author
Wid is a ninth-grade student at Al-Taqwa Academy in London Ontario. She enjoys playing sports, reading, and photography. She has won many awards in the Gauss Math Contest, The Mathematica Contest, the Thames Valley Science and Engineering Fair, as well as numerous awards at school-wide competitions. She has participated in Science fairs since 6th grade. In 2015, her father suffered from back pain. His physiotherapist told him to use a sit-stand desk. She wondered if using sit-stand desks affected work performance. She plans on doing this study on a larger group of people. Her advice for other students would be to choose a topic they are passionate about and to be confident in themselves and their work.