Overview and goals
The relationship between what we perceive (see, hear, feel, smell, etc.) and how we act (grasp, sit, crawl, walk, run, etc.) is both fundamental and complementary to development. It is impossible to plan an action without relevant perceptual information, and actions allow us to generate additional perceptual information. In our lab, we are examining the link between perception and action with an emphasis on learning and development. For example, how do we learn to gather the right kinds of perceptual information for different kinds of actions? What do we learn from our actions that can lead to changes in our perceptual and cognitive abilities? Is learning specific or flexible? What do we learn from and about others’ actions and how does it affect our own actions? How does development and experience affect learning, perception, and action?
To examine these questions, we present infants, children, and adults with novel tasks that encourage them to perceive, act, or learn. The tasks are diverse, ranging from learning to use tools, predicting the movement of falling objects, and estimating the ability to climb over an obstacle. They are designed with the overall goal of exploring the relationship between perception, action, learning, and development.
Perceptual information for actions
The world is filled with objects and surfaces composed of different material properties: Rough, smooth, soft, hard, textured, or bumpy. These materials properties influence our actions. We squeeze soft sponges, drive across smooth pavement, and wear shoes with textured soles. Although infants can perceive these properties early in life (Bourgeois, Khawar, Neal, & Lockman, 2005), our studies suggest that the ability to use information about material properties develops slowly over the first few years of life.
In a series of studies, we are examining the development of young children’s ability to use haptic information (information from touch) to plan an action. Preschool-aged children are asked to retrieve a small toy lodged in a narrow tube, using one of two tools that differ in rigidity. By testing children of different ages, varying the availability of visual or haptic information of the tools, and using several different versions of the task, we are learning about when and how children begin to use haptic information to plan their actions.
Learn more about a perceptual information study: Click here for a poster that was presented at the meeting of the International Conference on Infant Studies in 2010.
Imagine a young child learning to play a game of catch. For most of us, catching a ball is a simple action. For developing children, however, this simple action requires a series of careful calculations and planned movements that are challenging both physically and cognitively. With practice, she will acquire useful strategies for catching fly balls that will become a part of her repertoire, such as running toward the ball’s anticipated landing place as soon as it is thrown, and keep her eyes open and fixed on the trajectory of the ball.
To study how children learn useful problem-solving strategies for planning and carrying out various actions, we first ask preschoolers to us drop a ball into one of three intertwined tubes. (This task was inspired by Hood, 1995). Next, we ask children to predict where they think the ball will emerge. Although this seems like a straightforward question to adults, previous research has shown that this is a difficult task for young children. By providing children with different strategies they can use (e.g., imagining the ball rolling down a tube, marking each tube with a different color), we are learning which strategies are most helpful for children as well as which ones they can eventually learn to use on their own.
Learn more about a problem-solving strategy study: Click Here for a poster that was presented at the meeting of the International Conference on Infant Studies in 2012. And, click here to read a kid’s health blog’s discussion of our research.
Learning from others’ actions
As social beings, our developmental progression is dependent on our ability to learn from other peoples’ actions. In fact, observational learning is one of the most powerful learning mechanisms available to people of all ages and developmental levels. Infants and young children are sophisticated consumers of information from others. They can also learn complicated action sequences by watching live and televised models. One challenge for children (and sometimes, adults), of course, is that what they can do is different from what others can do. We must learn from others’ actions while reconciling for differences in size, ability, and knowledge between ourselves and other people.
We have created a novel task in which infants and children first watch another person climb over or navigate around an obstacle to reach a goal. Then they are asked to do the same. By varying the type of information delivered by the models, the kinds of actions performed by the models, and children’s access to perceptual information during the modeling demonstrations, we are beginning to understand how children learn about actions from other people and how they incorporate what they have learned into an action plan of their own.
Learn more about a learning from others study: Click Here for a poster that was presented at the meeting of the International Conference on Infant Studies in 2012.
Visual Spatial Skills across the Lifespan
Visual spatial skills allow us to obtain, retain, represent, and manipulate objects or information (Nguyen, Mulla, Nelson, & Wilson, 2014). These skills are necessary for understanding the relationships between objects, a skill that supports many of everyday tasks such as driving, moving furniture, packing a suitcase, playing sports, and using a map for directions (Boonen, Schoot, Wesel, Vries, & Jolles, 2013). Thus, our lab is interested in the effect aging has on such important skills.
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