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Infants Use Handrails as Tools in a Locomotor Task Sarah E. Berger and Karen E. Adolph

Summary: Infants Use Handrails as Tools in a Locomotor Task
Sarah E. Berger and Karen E. Adolph
New York University
In 2 experiments the authors demonstrated that adaptive locomotion can involve means­ends problem
solving. Sixteen-month-old toddlers crossed bridges of varying widths in the presence or absence of a
handrail. Babies attempted wider bridges more often than narrow ones, and attempts on narrow bridges
depended on handrail presence. Toddlers had longer latencies, examined the bridge and handrail more
closely, and modified their gait when bridges were narrow and/or the handrail was unavailable. Infants
who explored the bridge and handrail before stepping onto the bridge and devised alternative bridge-
crossing strategies were more likely to cross successfully. Results challenge traditional conceptualiza-
tions of tools: Babies used the handrail as a means for augmenting balance and for carrying out an
otherwise impossible goal-directed task.
Although independent locomotion is heralded as a setting event
for important cognitive developments in object search, spatial
skill, and causal and social relationships (e.g., Bertenthal, Campos,
& Barrett, 1984; Bremner, 1993; Campos et al., 2000; Campos,
Hiatt, Ramsay, Henderson, & Svejda, 1978), researchers typically
treat locomotion itself as a low-level perceptual­motor activity.
For example, researchers in the biomechanical tradition have fo-
cused on infants' postural adjustments, changes in their crawling


Source: Adolph, Karen - Center for Neural Science & Department of Psychology, New York University


Collections: Biology and Medicine