How Crawling and Manual Object Exploration are Related to the Mental Rotation Abilities of 9-Month-Old Infants - Research overview

Mental rotation refers to the ability to rotate mental representations of 2D and 3D objects. This skill is still crucial for infants as it directly effects how they relate and interact with their world after birth.

In this study, a movement calendar was sent to parents prior to evaluate length of crawling time (crawling defined as prone hands and knees crawling for at least 2 metres). The infants then participated in a mental rotation experiment, using a video of a rotating object and then shown an unseen side of the object and with a mirror image display (later discussed as the novel image). All infants then explored 5 toy blocks in a manual exploration experiment and scores were tracked.

The results found the more experienced crawlers would look at the familiar object for less time and longer at the novel object, completely independent of their manual exploration scores with the 5 blocks. In contrast, the more inexperienced crawlers would look longer at the familiar object and less time at the novel object. Quite simply, the more experienced crawler would explore the blocks more and show more interest in a novel object however the less experienced crawling infant would not explore the blocks and show a preference to the familiar object. The researchers concluded that all infants could complete the mental rotation task however, it was a more complex and difficult task for the infants that had not crawled for as long.

Schwarzer, G., Freitag, C., & Schum, N. (2013). How Crawling and Manual Object Exploration are Related to the Mental Rotation Abilities of 9-Month-Old Infants. Frontiers in Psychology. 4(97). doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00097

The Role of Crawling and Walking Experience in Infant Spatial Memory

This research explored the link between locomotor behavior in the transition from crawling to walking and the use of place learning and cue learning. For years researchers have been trying to understand how the brain processes and remembers spatial information.
Novice and expert crawling and walking infants were observed in a novel locomotor task, finding a hidden goal location in a large space. An interesting point of this study was the development of space learning and cue learning in infants. Spatial knowledge is that infants under 8 months of age tend to use “code space egocentrically” whereas infants over 8 months of age tend to use allocentric cues. After this, a big question arising from this study was what factors cause infants to switch from self reference coding to externally referenced coding. 
 This study used 2 different experiments to achieve a result. Experiment one tested the link between place learning and locomotor experience in 8-11 month olds and 14 month olds. These ages were chosen as 8 month olds are new crawlers, 11 month olds are experienced crawlers and 14 month olds represent new walkers. This experiment tested place learning in which infants were placed in an octagonal space facing the wall. Infants then turned and made their way to the calling parent in view. The same experiment was repeated but with the parent behind the octagonal wall to see if the infant progressed to the same area without verbal cue.

Results being that the novice crawler performed poorly compared to the experienced crawling infants and the novice walkers. It was also interesting that the infants use place cues which may be linked to how they locomote. Each group tended to use a different solution to solve the problem and the researchers deducted a link between spatial memory and the period of time an infant has been utilizing locomotor skill.

Experiment 2 used a hidden goal objective and explored spatial memory with a direct landmark. Based on earlier findings it was theorized that infants would have a better chance of finding their mother when a direct landmark was incorporated in the experiment.
With a direct landmark 8 month novice crawlers could not find the hidden goal and the experienced crawling infants and walkers were generally successful. This experiment backs up previous work indicating that infants are skilled at finding the location by direct landmark. It was proposed that the 8 month old infants were able to crawl and move however, when the task of using memory was added, this is when they were unsuccessful.

Overall, there was a link to infant’s use of spatial cues and links to their locomotor experience, and this particularly became variable during the transition to walking. All infants with 6 months of crawling practice had a perfect success rate however recent crawlers and walkers had less than 50% success. All infants with 6 weeks or more walking experience had perfect scores. This suggests that the onset of walking disrupts infants use of landmarks initially, until it is re-learnt.

This study concluded that an infant will learn disembodied concepts and what is abstract. “Learning and memory might not be just about the brain but instead may be processes that occur in the course of moving through the world.” When this is taken into account learning in infants can be strongly effected by exploring, moving and remembering.

Written by Kelly Beanland, Chiropractor

M.W, Clearfield. (2004). The role of crawling and walking experience in infant spatial memory. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 89(3), 214-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2004.07.003