Monday, September 26, 2011

Beyond Physcial Milestones, Part IV: Direct Perception

            In the late 1970s, American psychologist James Gibson proposed a new way to solve Bernstein’s problem.  Unlike the theory of information processing, Gibson’s direct perception approach argues that knowledge and observations about the environment do need to be organized and stored in the brain in order to be used.  Instead, information can be used directly by the infant, which Gibson refers to as “affordances.”  Affordances describe the environment in which the human is moving.  Humans learn to adapt to affordances; in the Tour de France, a biker will shift weight forward when faced with a large uphill climb, while they will shift back when rushing downhill. 
In this same way, infants learn to adapt their crawl or walk to their environment.  However, they do not create one set of rules that tell them how to move around different obstacles.  Instead, as they directly experience their environments, they decide how to move.  Because babies and young children grow so quickly, their bodies and especially their legs undergo major changes in a quick period of time.  As such, it would only confuse them to learn to scoot with short, chubby legs one week and longer, skinner legs the next.  In addition to the changes they are experiencing in themselves, they are in a constantly changing environment.  One day they might be crawling on soft carpet; the next a hard, slippery tiled floor or an uneven surface like grass. As adults, we adjust to these affordances everyday, most likely without a second thought (unless I am maneuvering these obstacles in heels- then the surface I’m encountering is likely in all of my thoughts.)  Babies are always having to learn to adapt to something new!
Research in the field of ecological psychology has revealed some findings that I find really interesting, funny, or that make me even more amazed in my little one!  Here are some of them:
·         It has been found that baby fat has profound influences on infant locomotion.  All babies are born with the “stepping reflex,” but it was commonly believed to disappear after about 2 months. Researchers have since learned, however, that the reflex exists much longer, but babies legs become too weighed down with fat for their little muscles to respond to the reflex!
·         Babies with about 6 weeks of crawling experience will know to avoid “drop-offs” or cliffs.  These experiments are completed by having infants crawl over raised plexiglass covered surfaces.  The babies start at an end where a brightly colored material is under the plexiglass, so they know they are moving on a solid surface.  Suddenly, the material is removed, but the plexiglass remains, giving the illusion that there is nothing supporting the baby.  Remarkably, the infants know to stop at this point.  Some do explore that space by touch, and will, eventually, trust that they can crawl over the space. 
·         Infants face more hurtles than adults when trying to maintain balance while crawling, standing, or walking.  This is because their shorter, smaller builds fall faster and require quicker reaction times to correct falls and they smaller feet and knees mean that they have a smaller base supporting their bodies. 
·         While we often lure infants across the carpet or around the room with toys, most infant movement is “means-end exploration.”  Many infants may not take the most direct path to get to the toy as they ultimately just want to test their motor skills. 

Hirsch-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R.M. (2003). USA:Rodale.
Adolph, K., Bertenthal, B. Boker, S., Goldfield, E., & Gibson, E.J. (1997). Learning in the development of infant locomotion. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 62(3), 1-162

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...