Dr. Karen E. Adolph - How Infants Learn to Walk (And How They Don't)

April 08, 2016

Friday, April 8, 2016
2:30pm at BPK Seminar Room K9624

"How Infants Learn to Walk (And How They Don't)"

Abstract: Learning to walk is one of the great accomplishments of infancy, but also one of the great mysteries of developmental science. Infants’ learning is remarkably rapid and robust: Within a few months of their first wobbly steps, infants can run across the living room floor. So how do they do it? In this talk, I will argue that research on the development of walking has been stymied by a traditional approach to this question that suffers from important misconceptions and empirical flaws. I offer six suggestions for making progress: (1) The traditional view that walking is a universal developmental achievement should be tempered by work showing that childrearing practices can facilitate or impede learning to walk. (2) We must recognize that the century-long tradition of representing locomotor development as a series of milestones is misleading because the skills on milestone charts are actually arbitrarily selected and onset ages are only crude approximations. (3) The traditional practice of treating perception as an adjunct to locomotion should be replaced by the acknowledgment that perception is integral to functional locomotion; perception is necessary for guiding movements adaptively. (4) The standard measures of locomotor development assume that gait is isomorphic with walking, but recent work shows that standard gait measures fail to capture the essential features of early walking. We should focus our efforts on understanding improvements in natural walking, the phenomenon we ostensibly wish to explain. (5) Walking age is not a stand-in for experience; we must discover how the amount and variety of practice leads to improvements in walking. (6) The prevailing culture of isolation has slowed scientific progress. Sharing videos and other forms of raw data will lead to greater transparency, allow for data reuse, and facilitate integrative analyses.

Refreshments following.

Dr. Karen E. Adolph is Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Center for Neuroscience at New York University. She received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and her Ph.D. from Emory University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Adolph leads the Databrary.org project to enable open video data sharing among developmental scientists. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and American Psychological Society and President of the International Society for Infant Studies. She received a James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award, the APF Robert L. Fantz Memorial Award, the APA Boyd McCandless Award, the ISIS Young Investigator Award, FIRST and MERIT awards from NICHD, and five teaching awards from NYU. She chaired the NIH study section on Motor Function and Speech Rehabilitation and is on the Advisory Board of the McDonnell Foundation and the editorial board of Developmental Psychobiology and Motor Learning and Development. Adolph’s research has been continually funded by NIH and NSF since 1991. Her work examines learning and development in the context of motor skill acquisition in infants and children. She is especially interested in effects of body growth, exploratory activity, environmental and social supports, and culture on perceptual-motor learning and development.