Research Topic

Motor skills and their Foundational Role for Perceptual, Social, and Cognitive Development

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Motor skills are a vital part of healthy development and are featured prominently both in physical examinations and in parents’ baby diaries. Moreover, it has been known for a long time that motor development is critical for children’s understanding of the physical and social world. More recent studies have ...

Motor skills are a vital part of healthy development and are featured prominently both in physical examinations and in parents’ baby diaries. Moreover, it has been known for a long time that motor development is critical for children’s understanding of the physical and social world. More recent studies have started to investigate the direct impact that motor skills may have on learning and the growth of social, cognitive, or perceptual skills. Learning occurs through dynamic interactions and exchanges with the physical and the social world. Movements of eyes and head, arms and legs, and the entire body are a critical part of these exchanges. For example, the onset of reaching and grasping allows infants to explore objects, learn about object functions, and to show and share objects with others. Similarly, the onset of walking allows infants to approach new interaction partners or to retreat from situations that are ambiguous. Consequently, motor development can determine what kind of learning opportunities a young child experiences. Starting with relatively poorly developed motor skills at birth, infants soon gain eye and head control, learn to reach and grasp, sit, and eventually to crawl and walk on their own over the first years of life. The opportunities arising from each of these motor milestones are profound and open up new and exciting possibilities for exploration, interactions, and learning. Indeed, a growing number of theoretical and empirical accounts suggest that infants’ perceptual and social-cognitive development is directly affected by their own motor experiences. Further, mounting evidence shows that motor skills are impaired in children from low socio-economic backgrounds, with premature birth as well as in a number of developmental disorders including Autism Spectrum Disorders, William’s syndrome, and Down syndrome, suggesting additional impact on cognitive and social development. These observations indicate that motor skills play a foundational role in the development of healthy perceptual, social, and cognitive skills in infancy and beyond. Further, these findings also suggest that interventions targeting the motor domain – which are readily available – may facilitate development in social, cognitive, or perceptual domains. However, little is known about the potential direct impacts of motor skills on other developmental domains. What specific motor skills and experiences might be necessary and what might be the underlying mechanisms through which motor skills influence development across domains? Answers to these timely questions may further our understanding of the developmental process as well as inform intervention strategies and practices.


This Frontiers in Psychology Research Topic aims to bring together research that investigates the role of motor skills in the development of infants and young children from theoretical and from applied perspectives. We welcome empirical reports, literature reviews, as well as hypothesis and theory papers addressing the important developmental questions about the cascading influences of motor development and motor skills on perceptual, social, or cognitive processes.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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