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Perception and Action in Motor Development

Developmental Changes in Perception-Action Mapping 

An important avenue to comprehend how infants learn to reach and interact with their environment is to investigate how they rely on their senses to detect pertinent information for their actions.  Many studies on infant reaching have stressed the importance of visual control on movement organization and the role of touch for the refinement of grip configurations. These findings are consistent with the idea that learning to reach is complex and that infants need considerable experience at both seeing and touching in order to become effective actors. To better understand how experience drives perceptual-motor change in infancy, we investigated the dynamics of perceiving and acting in 5- to 9-month-old infants as they saw, reached for, touched, and grasped objects of different sizes and textures repeatedly. We found that the developmental process by which appropriate perception-action matching develops in the first year is the product of continuous tensions and interactions between the organism’s own motor constraints and perceptual capacities. At the early ages, infants’ reaching responses were constrained by systemic motor tendencies that conflicted with the process of perceptual-motor mapping. As motor constraints dissolved, infants became more reliant on visual and haptic information to scale their actions to objects. More recently, we also discovered that touch is essential to the process of early learning to reach. In a revisited version of the “sticky mittens” paradigm, we opened the fingers and thumb of the mittens to allow direct finger contact with the target. We found that direct finger contact was critical for learning to reach, more so than the grasping simulation provided by the “sticky mittens”. We also found that infants with “non-sticky mittens” learned to reach faster than their peers wearing “sticky mittens”. Again, those discoveries were made through the use of microgenetic or dense longitudinal studies.


Related Publications: 

  • Corbetta, D., Thelen, E., & Johnson, K. (2000). Motor constraints on the development of perception-action matching in infant reaching. Infant Behavior & Development, 23, 351-374.
  • Corbetta, D. & Snapp-Childs, W. (2009). Seeing and touching: The role of sensory-motor experience on the development of infant reaching. Infant Behavior and Development, 32, 44-58.
  • Williams, J. L., Corbetta, D., & Guan, Y. (2015). Learning to reach with “sticky” and “non-sticky” mittens: A tale of developmental trajectories. Infant Behavior and Development, 38, 82-96.
  • Corbetta, D., Williams, J. L., & Haynes, J. M. (2016). Bare fingers, but no obvious influence of “prickly” Velcro! In the absence of parents’ encouragement, it is not clear that “sticky mittens” provide an advantage to the process of learning to reach. Infant Behavior and Development, 42, 168-178.