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!
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Event News