In a new study published today in the journal Developmental Science (Epub ahead of print), researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Vanderbilt University found that early motor experiences can shape infants' preferences for objects and faces. The study findings demonstrate that providing infants with "sticky mittens" to manipulate toys increases their subsequent interest in faces, suggesting advanced social development.
This study supports a growing body of evidence that early motor development and self-produced motor experiences contribute to infants' understanding of the social world around them. Conversely, this implies that when motor skills are delayed or impaired – as in autism – future social interactions and development could be negatively impacted.
"Our results provide us with a new way to think about typical, and also atypical, development," said Klaus Libertus, PhD, the study's lead author and a research scientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders. "The mind is not independent from the body, especially during development. As motor skills advance, other domains follow suit, indicating strong connections between seemingly unrelated domains. Such connections have exciting implications, suggesting that interventions could target the motor domain to foster social development."
Previous research has found that infants diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show less interest in faces and social orienting. While the current study was conducted with typically developing infants, it indicates that infants who are at risk for ASD or show signs of abnormal social development may benefit from motor training as early as 3 months of age.
"For parents, this means that early motor development is very important and they should encourage motor experiences and active exploration by their child," said Dr. Libertus. "Fostering motor development doesn't have to be complex or require sticky mittens. Any interactions or games that encourage a child to develop independent motor skills are important."
In the study, the researchers divided 36, typically-developing, 3-month-old infants into two groups – one receiving active motor experiences and the other receiving passive experiences. Infants in the active group were given mittens affixed with strips of Velcro, known as "sticky mittens." The researchers observed as infants in the active group played with the "sticky mittens" for 10 minutes each day for two weeks. While wearing the mittens, a brief swipe of the infants' arm made toys, also covered in Velcro, "stick" as if the infant had successfully grasped the object. Parents first demonstrated this by attaching the toy to the mitten, but then the toy was removed and the infant was encouraged to independently reach for the toy again.
In the passive group, infants were fitted with aesthetically similar mittens and toys, but without Velcro. Passive infants also played with the mittens and toys for 10 minutes each day for two weeks, but were only passive observers as parents provided stimulation by moving the toy and touching it to the inside of the infants' palms.
After two weeks of daily training, the researchers tracked the infants' eye movements while they watched images of faces and toys flash on a computer screen. Infants in the passive and active groups were compared with each other, as well as to two control groups of untrained infants comprised of non-reaching 3-month-olds and independently-reaching 5-month-olds. Researchers found the following:The active group showed more interest in faces rather than objects. In contrast, the passive group showed no preference.
Finally, individual differences in motor activity observed between all 3-month-old infants in the study were predictive of their spontaneous orienting to faces. Regardless of training experiences, the more reaching attempts infants made, the stronger was their tendency to look at faces. Thus, motor experiences seem to drive social development.
"The most surprising result of our study is that we see a connection between early motor experiences and the emergence of orienting towards faces," said Dr. Libertus. "Logically, one would predict exactly the opposite. But in the light of seeing actions as serving a social purpose, it does make sense."
A key question researchers hope to answer next is whether these early changes will translate into future gains for these children. "Our results indicate a new direction for research on social development in infants," said Dr. Libertus. Dr. Libertus and his colleagues will continue to observe these children to see if the social development benefits achieved during the current study are sustained one year later.
Support for this study was provided by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
About the Kennedy Krieger Institute
Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain and spinal cord, the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD serves more than 16,000 individuals each year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how disorders develop while pioneering new interventions and earlier diagnosis. For more information on Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit www.kennedykrieger.org.
Megan Lustig | EurekAlert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
08.12.2016 | Life Sciences
08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences