An article in the Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists & Audiologists (sEPTEMBER 19, 2011) described a new way to think about development. Early motor experiences can shape infants’ preferences for objects and faces, according to a new study. The findings demonstrate that providing infants with “sticky mittens” to manipulate toys increases their interest in faces, suggesting advanced social development.
When 3-month-olds were given mittens affixed with strips of Velcro, known as “sticky mittens”, a brief swipe of their arm made toys covered in Velcro stick, as if they had successfully grasped the object. Parents demonstrated this by attaching a toy to the mitten. The toy was removed and the infant was encouraged to reach independently for the toy again. When another group of infants were fitted with aesthetically similar mittens and toys that did not have Velcro, they were only passive observers, as parents provided stimulation by moving a toy and touching it to the inside of the infants’ palms.
After two weeks of daily training, the active group showed more interest in faces than objects, while the passive group showed no preference. Infants in the active group focused on faces first, suggesting strenghtening of a spontaneous preference. The more reaching attempts infants made, the stronger their tendency to look at faces. Motor experiences seem to drive social development.
A key question researchers hope to answer next is whether these early changes will translate into future gains for these children. This new research could point in a new direction for research on social development in children.
Opininion by Pam Hass, Speech-Language Pathologist. Kids begin pointing to indicate what they want or need or for joint attention to communicate between 9-12 months of age. If this process can be boosted through training with the use of more motor experiences at a younger age, kids, who may have social delays or social disabilities, may benefit from this early training. The research needs to continue in order for this to become evidence-based practice.
Libertus ,K., Needham, A. (2011) Reaching experience increases face preference in 3-month-old-infants, Developmental Science, online, Sept. 9.