• Tai Chi;
  • Adolescents;
  • Self-concept;
  • Mind–body medicine


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract

Previous research has documented the beneficial effect of Tai Chi, but most of the studies focused on elders and patients with specific health conditions. The aim of the study was to test whether Tai Chi can help to improve self-concept in adolescents with a longitudinal study. The sample comprised 160 students from a Chinese middle school; half of students formed the experimental group and the rest formed the control group. A 1-year Tai Chi intervention was delivered in 60-minute sessions, five times a week. Both groups were instructed to complete the measure of self-concept at the beginning and end of the intervention. Statistical analysis shows the significant reduction of good behaviour, intellectual and school status, popularity and anxiety in the experimental group compared with the control group. The results suggest that the Tai Chi intervention could improve self-concept in adolescents.

Tai Chi, an ancient form of a traditional Chinese physical exercise, is a popular form of exercise throughout the world and has drawn much attention in the psychological literature and beyond, generating intense demand for applications in medicinal, educational and clinical settings. Tai Chi is a low impact mind–body exercise and involves the coordination of diaphragmatic breathing with graceful motions to achieve tranquillity of mind, so it can be readily used by elderly and medically compromised individuals (Irwin, Pike, & Oxman, 2004). It adopts a holistic approach of balancing the interaction between mind and body, with its physical movements having benefits similar to walking, whereas its cognitive aspect resembles a mental state of meditation (Liang, 1977). Therefore, it also has been considered as a form of “moving meditation” (Wang et al., 2009).

There is an emerging consensus that Tai Chi may have beneficial effects on both physical functioning and psychological health. Tai Chi may increase maximal oxygen uptake, lower blood pressure, improve muscle strength and restore immunity (Jimenez, Melendez, & Albers, 2012). Documented psychological benefits of Tai Chi come from research conducted around two constructs: cognitive functioning and quality of life. The former includes functional aspects of the brain such as memory, abstract reasoning ability, spatial ability, cognitive processes such as attention, psychomotor ability and data processing speed and their interaction such as intelligence and problem solving (Chang, Nien, Tsai, & Etnier, 2010; Jimenez et al., 2012). At the psychological level, Tai Chi has been found to have positive effects on improvements in emotional well-being with regard to depression, stress, anxiety, positive affect and negative affect, life satisfaction with regard to global cognitive evaluations of life and self-perception in its self-efficacy and self-esteem domain (Jahnke, Larkey, Rogers, Etnier, & Lin, 2010; Wang et al., 2010).

Although previous research has indicated that Tai Chi plays a crucial function in improving self-efficacy and self-esteem (Jahnke et al., 2010; Li, Harmer, Chaumeton, Duncan, & Duncan, 2002; Mustian et al., 2004), there is no research to confirm whether Tai Chi helps to enhance self-concept. Self-concept is the totality of the individual's cognitive image of himself or herself; it is the cognitive component of the self (Houck, Kendall, Miller, Morrell, & Wiebe, 2011). It involves a descriptive definition of the self and the ideas, beliefs and attitudes about the self and one's competencies in various domains (Houck et al., 2011). Self-esteem is differentiated from self-concept as the expression of one's self-concept, and the value and significance one places on one's self. Self-efficacy is the experience of self as able to produce these competencies, whereas self-concept is an individual's cognitive image of self and one's competencies (Houck et al., 2011). Considering that previous studies have mainly focused on general self-efficacy and self-esteem, the purpose of the study is to test whether Tai Chi can have a beneficial effect on specific components of self-concept (e.g. physical self-concept into physical ability and physical appearance).

In the Tai Chi literature, the beneficial effect of Tai Chi has been sparsely studied in adolescents. Existing Tai Chi research has focused primarily on those among relatively healthy older adults and patients with specific health conditions, especially those with chronic diseases (Li et al., 2002; Mustian et al., 2004). Adolescence is a developmental stage that is characterised by a high number of psychological and physical changes (Brown, 1992). During this period, the development of adolescents' self-concept is crucial, because it can affect their emotions, behaviour, academic performance and social adaptability (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1991; Guay, Marsh, & Boivin, 2003; Salmivalli, 1998).

In summary, the aim of this study was to test the positive effect of Tai Chi on self-concept in Chinese adolescents through a 1-year Tai Chi intervention. We used the Piers–Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale (PHCSCS; Piers & Harris, 1964) to measure self-concept. Based on the prior research, we expected that the Tai Chi intervention would improve adolescents' self-concept in the experimental group rather than the control group.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract


To test the important function of Tai Chi in self-concept in adolescents, a pretest–posttest control group design was used in this study. Participants needed to participate in a 60-minute Tai Chi exercise class five times per week for 1 year (including the summer and winter holidays), with data collected at baseline, and 1 year following the intervention. Data were collected from October 2009 to September 2010.


Participants were 160 7th grade students attending a public middle school in a middle city within the Eastern Mainland China and they reported no any previous meditation experience. Participants signed consent forms indicating the voluntary and anonymous nature of the study. Additionally, we also obtained written informed consent from guardians on the behalf of the minor participants involved in our study. We assigned them randomly to either a Tai Chi group (n = 80; 38 males) or a control group (n = 80; 37 males). Their mean age was 14.74 years (SD = 0.66; ranging from 13 to 16 years). During the intervention, some students have not attended classes regularly or discontinued during the summer or winter holidays, so 142 students with a Tai Chi group (n = 73; 35 males) and a control group (n = 69; 33 males) remained at the end of the intervention.


The 80-item PHCSCS (Piers & Harris, 1964) is a quantitative self-report measure of adolescents' self-concept. The scale consists of six subscales: behaviour ("I do many bad things"), intellectual and school status ("I am good in my school work"), physical appearance and attributes ("I am good looking"), anxiety ("I cry easily"), popularity ("People pick on me") and happiness and satisfaction ("I am a happy person"). The PHCSCS consists of 80 yes/no statements with 40 positive statements and 40 negative statements. Negatively worded items are reverse coded to compute total scores. The scores can range from 0 (low level of self-concept) to 80 (high level of self-concept). The total scores range from 0 to 16 for the behaviour subscale, from 0 to 17 for the intellectual and school status subscale, from 0 to 13 for the physical appearance and attributes subscale, from 0 to14 for the anxiety subscale, from 0 to 12 for the popularity subscale and from 0 to 10 for the happiness and satisfaction subscale. The PHCSCS has been found to have satisfactory internal consistency and test–retest reliability. The PHCSCS has been translated into Chinese and has good reliability and validity (Su, Luo, Zhang, Xie, & Liu, 2002. In this study, the Cronbach's alpha coefficients for the six subscales were satisfactory (anxiety: α = .93, behaviour: α = .78, physical appearance and attributes: α = .88, popularity: α = .91, intellectual and school status: α = .86 and happiness and satisfaction: α = .95). The Cronbach's alpha coefficient for all items was .89.


Participants in the experimental group participated in a 1-year Tai Chi programme, which was conducted five times a week, and each session lasted for 1 hour. Participants in the control group needed to do China's 8th edition broadcasting gymnastics, which are a form of physical exercise with stronger exercise intensity than the Tai Chi. The Tai Chi intervention focused on the coordination of individual postures, balance, body awareness and breathing inherent to Tai Chi practice. The Yang-style Tai Chi (24 forms) was used in this study. A martial arts coach of the Tai Chi from Shandong Sports Team was appointed to conduct the programme. During the sessions, the instructor demonstrated the Tai Chi movements, and participants imitated the motions and postures. New Tai Chi movements were introduced in each session, and the entire sequence took nearly 10 minutes to perform. To eliminate bias in implementing the intervention and interactions with participants, the instructor was blinded to outcome measures. Before each session, their head teacher was responsible for counting the number of students and recording the names of the students who were absent.

All the participants needed to complete the PHCSCS before and after the application of the programme. Instructions were read aloud by the researcher, and sample questions were provided prior to the administration of the questionnaire. In addition, participants were encouraged to clarify any questions or confusions they might have with regard to the questionnaire. We did not encounter any problems during the process.

Data analysis

All statistical analysis was performed using SPSS for Windows 18.0 (SPSS Inc). Descriptive statistics were calculated for the participants' demographic characteristics and performance level in various tests. Chi-square and independent t-tests were used to determine group differences during the pretest. Independent t-tests were also used to determine group differences during the posttest.


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  2. Abstract

All basic characteristics for two groups during the pretest are displayed in Table 1. At the baseline, a chi-square test revealed no significant differences between the Tai Chi and control groups in terms of such demographic variables as gender (χ2 = 1.66, p > .05). In addition, independent sample t-tests also indicated no significant differences between the Tai Chi and control groups in relation to such demographic variables as age, t(140) = 1.25, p > .05, Cohen's d = 0.21.

Table 1. Baseline characteristics of participants
CharacteristicsExperimental group Mean (SD)Control group Mean (SD)tCohen's d
Age14.79 (0.69)14.65 (0.64)  1.25  0.21
Self-concept52.24 (9.61)54.03 (8.38)−1.18−0.19
Behaviour11.04 (2.10)11.64 (2.21)−1.65−0.28
Intellectual and school status10.53 (3.27)10.57 (2.76)−0.08−0.01
Physical appearance and attributes 6.06 (2.52) 6.00 (2.73)  0.13  0.02
Anxiety 7.70 (2.44) 8.48 (2.63)−1.83−0.30
Popularity 9.10 (1.55) 9.20 (1.37)−0.40−0.07
Happiness and satisfaction 7.09 (1.32) 7.04 (1.24)  0.23  0.04

Independent t-tests showed the differences for general factor of self-concept and all its aspects in the pretest measures between the control and Tai Chi groups were non-significant (ps > .05). However, the results of the independent sample t-tests indicated that significant differences existed in some variables between the Tai Chi and control groups in the posttest measures.

The means and standard deviations for two groups with reference to the self-concept measure after training are displayed in Table 2. Compared with the finding of no significant differences in the pretest, the Tai Chi group exhibited higher scores in relation to some aspects of self-concept such as behaviour, t(140) = 3.23, p < .001, Cohen's d = 0.54, intellectual and school status t(140) = 2.69, p < .01, Cohen's d = 0.45, popularity, t(140) = 3.02, p < .001, Cohen's d = 0.51, anxiety, t(140) = 2.84, p < .01, Cohen's d = 0.48, and global self-concept, t(140) = 2.97, p < .001, Cohen's d = 0.50. However, we found no significant difference in relation to happiness and satisfaction, t(140) = 0.93, p > .05, Cohen's d = 0.16, and physical appearance and attributes, t(140) = 1.06, p > .05, Cohen's d = 0.18, between the Tai Chi and control groups. As predicted, the findings indicate that a statistically significant improvement existed in self-concept variables of the Tai Chi group after the 1 year of Tai Chi training (Figure 1).

Table 2. Changes of the dependent variables of the Tai Chi and control groups after training
Dependent variableExperimental group Mean (SD)Control group Mean (SD)tCohen's d
  1. a

    *p < .01;

  2. b

    **p < .001.

Self-concept54.90 (10.31) 49.39 (11.75)2.97b0.50
Behaviour12.67 (2.61)11.25 (2.62)3.23b0.54
Intellectual and school status11.87 (2.96)10.57 (2.79)2.69a0.45
Physical appearance and attributes 6.74 (2.84) 6.25 (2.64)1.06 0.18
Anxiety 6.51 (2.19) 5.28 (2.90)2.84a0.48
Popularity 9.78 (1.63) 8.91 (1.80) 3.02b0.51
Happiness and satisfaction 7.33 (1.16) 7.13 (1.39)0.93 0.16

Figure 1. Comparison of self-concept measures between Tai Chi group and control group after Tai Chi training.

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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract

Tai Chi, a popular physical exercise, has spread worldwide over the past two decades. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the nature of Tai Chi helps to improve self-concept in adolescents. The results from this study indicate that compared with the control group, the Tai Chi group yielded significant gains over time in some specific subdomains of self-concept. Specifically, Tai Chi participants reported higher levels of perceptions within desirable or good behaviours, intellectual and school status, popularity and less within anxiety after 1 year of Tai Chi practice. Although the measures of self-concept are expected theoretically to be stable, the observed change in this study is an interesting one. These findings are consistent with the earlier studies that reported the psychological effects of Tai Chi. Empirical evidence suggests that older adults showed increased levels of global self-esteem after a 6-month Tai Chi programme (Li et al., 2002). Older adults who practice Tai Chi regularly have also demonstrated improvements in cognitive function including cognitive ability and life satisfaction among older adults (Chang et al., 2010).

Non-significant results in relation to some specific subdomains of self-concept may be due to several reasons. As pointed out by Plummer (1982), each Tai Chi movement needs to be integrated by mind concentration, balanced shifting of body weight, muscle relaxation and breath control. The essence of Tai Chi is difficult to bring out only through doing the movements. In addition, Yang-style Tai Chi might be too complicated to learn and memorise by the younger participants. Because participants needed to focus on learning and memorising the sequence of the movements, they could not grasp the gist of Tai Chi and enjoy the exercises. A more simplified, easy-to-learn and easy-to-perform Tai Chi movements might be more appropriate for the young adolescents. In addition, self-concept is crucial for several outcomes including social behaviours and academic performance. Therefore, future studies should test whether this Tai Chi exercise may influence adolescents' emotions, academic performance and social adaptability. Finally, the data from this study relied exclusively on a self-report measure. Although the measure had good reliability and validity, self-report measures are subjective by nature and vulnerable to bias (e.g. social desirability). The use of multiple methods for evaluation (teacher report) may decrease the influence of subjectivity.

In summary, results from this study indicated that Tai Chi could be useful as an alternative form of exercise to improve adolescents' perceptions of their cognitive image of themselves. Future work should be to assess whether elements learned in Tai Chi (e.g. concentration of mind) could be incorporated into adolescents' repertoire of self-regulatory and inner control techniques. There is evidence that cognitive-behavioural treatments do work in this regard (Brandon, Eason, & Smith, 1986). Perhaps, in addition to techniques learned in Tai Chi and knowledge about benefits that Tai Chi may bring, relaxation training and/or yoga could become part of adolescents' repertoire of stress management skills. Those designing school curricula might follow the lead of general interest in Tai Chi training, by considering its inclusion in physical education and stress management programmes. These programmes can be developed and implemented into educational system via physical education classes and clinical practice via academic curriculum courses.


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  2. Abstract
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