This systematic review and meta-analysis examines the efficacy of physical activity interventions in the reduction of antisocial behavior in children and adults. Several possible moderators, including study design, sample characteristics (age, proportion male, and sample type), control group, and outcome characteristics (type of activity, duration, frequency), were also investigated.
A literature search was performed in the following databases: PubMed, Ebsco/SportDiscus, Ebsco/APA PsycINFO, Ebsco/ERIC, Ebsco/Criminal Justice Abstracts, Embase.com, and Clarivate Analytics/Web of Science Core Collection from inception to June 2021. Studies were eligible if they reviewed the effect of chronic physical activity interventions on antisocial behavior compared to wait-list, no-exercise, or attention control samples. The following studies were excluded: animal studies, studies reporting on acute exercise, studies including yoga or mindfulness as the sole measure of physical activity, and studies including substance (ab)use and/or smoking as the only outcome measure. A random effects model was used to calculate pooled effect sizes. The risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool (version 2).
The search yielded 29 studies, of which 20 were included in the meta-analysis. Results indicate a significant small-to-medium effect (g = − 0.26) with a 95% confidence interval ranging from − 0.48 to − 0.04 in favor of physical activity interventions. Significant moderators included type of control group, type of physical activity, and type of antisocial behavior, with larger effect sizes for comparisons with inactive control groups (g = − 0.31), interventions containing walking, jogging, or running as the main type of physical activity (g = − 0.87), and anger/hostility as an antisocial outcome measure (g = − 0.42).
Physical activity interventions may be a promising way to reduce antisocial behavior in children and adults. However, due to the overall high risk of bias in the included studies, more sound evaluation research is needed to better understand the functioning and to improve the possible implementation of physical activity interventions.