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Motor Development

Motor Development

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Motor Development1
Motor Development
Karen E. Adolph and Sarah E. Berger
 
To appear in W. Damon & R. Lerner (Series Eds.) & D. Kuhn & R. S. Siegler (Vol. Eds.),
Handbook of child psychology: Vol 2: Cognition, perception, and language
(6th ed. ) New York: Wiley.
Contents
RECLAIMING MOTOR DEVELOPMENT...................................................................2The Formal Structure of Movements...........................................................................2Perceptual Control of Motor Actions...........................................................................5Chapter Overview.......................................................................................................6MOTOR DEVELOPMENT AS A MODEL SYSTEM....................................................7Qualitative Changes....................................................................................................8Emergent Developments..............................................................................................9Developmental Trajectories.......................................................................................19Variability.................................................................................................................26Time, Age, and Experience........................................................................................28Movement is Ubiquitous...........................................................................................33Summary: Models of Change....................................................................................35MOTOR DEVELOPMENT AS A PERCEPTION-ACTION SYSTEM........................37Prospective Control...................................................................................................38Centrality of Posture..................................................................................................43Perceiving Affordances.............................................................................................45The Perception-Action Loop.....................................................................................56Creating New Affordances for Action.......................................................................61Summary: Getting into the Act..................................................................................63ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS...........................................................................................65FIGURE CAPTIONS......................................................
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 REFERENCES.............................................................................................................66
 
Motor Development2
RECLAIMING MOTOR DEVELOPMENT
For many years, motor development has been the area of developmental psychology that dare not speak its name. In lieu of “motor development”, researchershave preferred terms like “perceptual-motor development”, “perception and action”, and“motor skill acquisition”. Perhaps the eponym “motor development” does not soundsufficiently psychological whereas names like “perceptual-motor development” remindreaders that the adaptive control of motor actions involves proper psychological processes such as perception, planning, decision-making, memory, intentions, motivation,and goals.Sure, every introductory textbook contains a chapter called “Motor Development”, usually paired with physical growth. But, the textbook inventories of infantile reflexes, motor milestones, and growth charts do not reflect the kind of work that currently characterizes the field. Most of us do, in fact, study perception-actioncoupling with the aim of understanding developmental changes in the perceptual,cognitive, social, and emotional processes that contribute to the adaptive control of motor actions. However, many developmental psychologists also study the formal structure of movements with the aim of using motor development as a model system for understanding more general developmental processes and principles. In recognition thatmotor development involves two kinds of research— using the formal structure of infants’ movements to elucidate general principles of development as well as a focus ondevelopmental changes in the perceptual control of motor actions—we have, withoutapology, entitled this chapter, “Motor Development.”
The Formal Structure of Movements
A remarkable thing about motor skills is that movements are directly observable.Most domains of psychological development are the hidden denizens of mental activity.The content of children’s thoughts, percepts, emotions, intentions, concepts, memories,and linguistic representations must be inferred from overt motor behaviors such asspeech, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements, or in more technicallysophisticated labs, from images of brain activity. Likewise, the moment-to-moment timecourse of mental activities must be inferred from children’s vocalizations, patterns of looking behavior, manual and facial expressions, or from the traces of brain activity on anelectroencephalogram. Descriptions of developmental changes in mental activity can beeven more removed from direct observation because researchers frequently must rely ondifferent tasks and procedures to study children at different ages, typically looking behaviors at younger ages and manual or vocal behaviors at older ages (Hofstadter &Reznick, 1996; Keen, 2003).In contrast to the covert nature of mental events, motor behaviors are out in theopen. As Gesell (1946) wrote in an earlier chapter in this
 Handbook 
, motor behaviors“have shape” (p. 297). Every wiggle and step occurs over measurable time and space.The traces of motor activity on a video monitor or three-dimensional motion-recordingdevice are a direct read-out of the movement itself. No inferential leap separates a motor skill from a description of its form. What you see is what you get.
 
Motor Development3
Moreover, researchers can observe the changing form of children’s movementsover multiple, nested time scales. The time-space trajectory of infants’ first awkward armextensions can be compared with changes in the speed and straightness of the reachingtrajectory over the trials in a single session, and across multiple sessions conducted over days, weeks, and months of practice. Milliseconds and millimeters are nested withinlarger time-space units. Changes in real time can be tracked directly over learning anddevelopment.A benefit of being so conspicuously available to observation is that motor development makes a unique model system for studying general developmental processes—the origins of new behavioral forms; the extent to which development is patterned, orderly, and directional; the role of variability in facilitating or impedingdevelopment; whether developmental trajectories are continuous or stage-like; whether changes are universal across individuals and cultures, and so on. Such general issues of form and timing can be fruitfully addressed with a model system in which form andtiming are transparent.Inspired by Coghill’s (1929) example of linking developmental changes in theswimming patterns of salamander embryos with general principles of embryologicaldevelopment, the great pioneers in motor development—McGraw, Gesell, and Shirley— used changes in the form and temporal structure of infants’ movements as illustrationsand existence proofs of general developmental processes. The focus on formal structureis beautifully exemplified in the line drawings that figured prominently in the work of theearly pioneers (see Figure 1). Infants (like salamanders) are drawn abstracted from thesurrounding context so as to highlight the changing morphology of the movements.Gesell (1946), for example, described changes in the temporal structure and spatialconfiguration of infants’ crawling movements to demonstrate the existence of qualitativechanges in human development. Likewise, contemporary researchers, led by Thelen andher colleagues (e.g., Thelen & Ulrich, 1991), have used the changing shape of infants’reaching, grasping, kicking, stepping, crawling, walking, and jumping movements toillustrate developmental trajectories, propose general principles of developmental change,and speculate about biologically plausible developmental mechanisms.Whereas most model systems are scaled-down versions of the target phenomenon,the beauty of using the changing shape of infants’ movements to understand developmentstems solely from the fact that we can see infants’ movements, not from their simplicityor tractability. Coghill (1929) expressly selected salamanders for a model system of embryological development because salamanders’ primitive C- and S-shaped swimmingmovements and simple nervous systems are scaled-down versions of locomotion and itscorrelated activity in the central nervous system (CNS) of higher vertebrates. In contrast,infants’ movements are not scaled-down versions of adults’ movements, nor are infants’movements easy to elicit or record. Rather, babies’ clumsy walking steps, reaches, andhead and eye movements are notoriously variable and complex compared with those of adults. Even newborn reflexes and infants’ spontaneous writhing and flailing have avariable and complex spatial and temporal structure.

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