Second-order motor planning in children: insights from a cup-manipulation-task
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The present study examined the development of anticipatory motor planning in an object manipulation task that has been used to successfully demonstrate motor planning in non-human primates (Weiss et al. in Psychol Sci 18:1063–1068, 2007). Seventy-five participants from four different age groups participated in a cup-manipulation task. One group was preschool children (average age of 5.1 years), two groups were primary school children (7.7 and 9.8 years old respectively) and the final group was comprised of adults. The experimental task entailed reaching for a plastic cup that was vertically suspended in an apparatus in either upright or inverted orientation, removing the cup by its stem and then retrieving a small toy from the inside of the cup. When the cup was inverted in the apparatus, evidence for anticipatory motor planning could be achieved by initially gripping the stem using an inverted (thumb-down) grip posture. We found that when the cup was in upright orientation, all participants reached for the cup using an upright grip (i.e. thumb-up posture). However, when the cup was inverted in the apparatus, only adults consistently used an inverted grasping posture, though the percentage of inverted grips among participants did increase with age. These results suggest a protracted development for anticipatory motor planning abilities in children. Surprisingly, the performance of adults on this task more closely resembles the performance of several nonhuman primate species as opposed to children even at approximately 10 years of age. We discuss how morphological constraints on flexibility may help account for these findings.
KeywordsPreschool Child Motor Planning Inverted Orientation Upright Orientation Comfort Rating
This research was supported by NIH Grant R01 HD067250 (D. J. Weiss) and the German Research Foundation Grant DFG EXC 277 “Cognitive Interaction Technology” (CITEC) (M. Weigelt and T. Schack). The authors thank Roland Pfister for his support on the statistics, the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions on the manuscript, as well as the editor, Wilfried Kunde, for carefully handling the manuscript.
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