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
, 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.