For my research on Embodied Cognition, I received the 2019 Annual Award to an Outstanding Young Researcher in Psychology (priset till yngre forskare i psykologi) from the National Swedish Committee for Psychological Sciences at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Svenska nationalkommittén för psykologi vid Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien). This is a great honour and I am so very happy about it.
The motivation reads as follows:
“För att hon skickligt och kreativt introducerar en ny teoretisk ansats inom området förkroppsligad kognition genom att länka samman kognitiv och motorisk utveckling under tidig spädbarnsålder. Hon testar empiriskt hur exekutiva kontrollfunktioner utvecklas genom att förena kognitiv med motorisk kontroll. Därtill introducerar Dr Gottwald på ett elegant sätt ny metodik till fältet som utgör en väg framåt för att kunna studera barns utveckling. Dr Gottwald förkroppsligar därmed vad en skicklig forskare är och framstår som en i alla avseenden mycket värdig pristagare.”
English (my translation):
“Because she skilfully and creatively introduced a new theoretical approach in the field of Embodied Cognition by linking cognitive and motor development in early infancy. She empirically tests how executive functions are developing by combining cognitive and motor control. In addition, Dr. Gottwald elegantly introduces a new methodology to the the field, which represents an advancement in studying child development. Thus, Dr. Gottwald embodies what defines a skilled researcher. She appears to be a very worthy laureate in all respects.”
In association with the prize, I have the honour to organise a symposium with international experts in the field of Embodied Cognitive Science. This symposium will take place in the National History Museum in Stockholm on the 15th of October 2020. You can find more information about the symposium here.
Yesterday, I presented my recent work (with Gustaf Gredebäck & Marcus Lindskog) in Oslo, Norway. This full-day workshop “Mapping the Self – Infants, Robots, and Modeling” organised by Daniela Corbetta (Tennessee, USA), Matej Hoffmann (Prague, Czech Republic), Jeffrey Lockman (New Orleans, USA), and Verena Hafner (Berlin, Germany) brought together scientists working on body mapping, peripersonal space, and the sense of body ownership.
From both, a psychological and a robotics perspectives, we discussed infant/child motor development, the emerging sense of a bodily self, and how these relate to models of behaviour.
How do infants perform two-step actions, as for example reaching for a toy to place it somewhere else? Do they plan their reach based on what’s happening next? Or do they tailor their placing action based on the previous reach?
We just published a modelling paper addressing this question.
Gottwald, J.M., Gredebäck, G., & Lindskog, M. (2019). Two-step actions in infancy – the TWAIN model. Experimental Brain Research. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-019-05604-0.
📖 online copy (publisher, open access)
The answer is: Both! We show that in addition to planning effects, there are transfer effects when 1.5 year-olds carry out these two-step actions. In this paper, we propose a model describing movement durations in reach-to-place sequences.
Here, you can find the data related to the publication at the Open Science Framework.
(1) Association Between Specific Motor Skills and Executive Functions from Infancy Through Kindergarten age
Annina Zysset (Children’s Hospital Zurich) and Claudia Roebers (Bern University) organised a symposium on the relation between motor skills and executive functions in infancy and early childhood. Michelle Maurer (Bern University), Derek Becker (Western Carolina University), and I contributed. My talk was entitled An Embodied Account of Executive Function Development in Infancy.
SYMPOSIUM ABSTRACT: There is accumulated evidence for an association between motor skills and executive functions (EFs). However, not much is known about the underlying mechanisms and nature of this association or change of the association across childhood lifespan. This symposium aims to extend the knowledge of cross-sectional and longitudinal association between different motor skills and EFs from early infancy through kindergarten age, using different approaches. Paper 1 will link prospective motor control and EFs in infancy. Results from 18-month-olds indicate that prospective motor control is correlated with simple inhibition and working memory, but not complex inhibition. These results will be discussed within an embodied-cognitive framework, together with ongoing longitudinal research. Paper 2 studies the cross-sectional and longitudinal association of fine motor skills, pure motor skills, motor inhibition and EFs in preschool children. Results show that – even when including environmental factors – fine motor skills are among the strongest predictors of EFs in 2-to-6-year-olds. Paper 3 assumes that the link between performance in motor and EFs tasks is driven by task novelty and complexity. The examination of motor control and EFs tasks in 5-to-6-year-olds seems to confirm this hypothesis, indicating that EFs are more required in high demand motor control tasks, and thus, explain the stronger correlations. Paper 4 investigates the cross lag effect of visuomotor skills and EFs between the Fall and Spring of prekindergarten, and Spring of prekindergarten to the Fall of kindergarten. Moreover, the paper will examine the interaction between visuomotor skills and EFs on growth in math.
(2) The growing body: a multisensory challenge
Dorothy Cowie (Durham University) organised a symposium on the development of body representation. Andrew Bremner (Birmingham University), Lucilla Cardinali (Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia), Alessia Tonelli (Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia), and I contributed. My talk was entitled This feels like my hand! The contributions of posture and size to embodiment across development.
SYMPOSIUM ABSTRACT: The growth of the physical body is almost synonymous with childhood development. The body changes in size and relative proportion, growing unevenly and over many years. Thus, the child is in a state of constant flux and uncertainty regarding the sole medium through which she interacts with both the physical and social world. We ask how the growing child understands her own body in this challenging context. Paper 1 introduces the idea that multisensory interactions facilitate body understanding even in early infancy, showing that visual-tactile correlations are expected and used in the first year of life. Paper 2 shows that in understanding her own body, the developing child not only uses multisensory information but also prior knowledge of body posture and size. Paper 3 reveals the significant distortions that are nevertheless present in the child’s perceived body size and judgements of her action capabilities. Papers 2 and 3 both suggest that multiple, compartmentalised body representations appear to exist in the developing brain. Paper 4 finally considers developing body representations in the different developmental context of blindness and low vision. It reveals the impact upon the multisensory understanding of the body; and shows that perception can be rehabilitated using a sound-based wearable device. We will schedule ample time for questions, and for an integrated discussion following the talks. In this way we aim to highlight state of the art in the field, and to generate new questions for research in, and beyond, this topic.
The Dynamics of Development: Process, (Inter-)Action, & Complexity
Symposium 28: Motor planning and its relation to executive functions across the lifespan
Organised by Janna M. Gottwald (Durham University)
Abstract: Motor development is crucial for developing children to interact with the world in a goal-directed way, to learn about the environment, and to plan their actions. Thereby, motor development is assumed to be closely linked to cognitive development. This is for example illustrated by the fact that arising new motor skills enable new forms of interaction with the world and could therefore, along with these new experiences, foster slower developing cognitive functions, such as executive functions (i.e. inhibition, working memory, shifting). The onsets of reaching and grasping in infancy for instance, offer new opportunities for action, such as object manipulation, and opportunities to acquire knowledge, such as object and action knowledge.
This active exploration of the world enables experiencing the body-external world (i.e. object knowledge), as well as perceiving one’s own body movements and the interplay of different effectors (i.e. action knowledge). As soon as executive functions have sufficiently developed, they can in turn have impacts on motor performance. Working memory and inhibitory control for instance can positively influence manual dexterity and motor planning in middle childhood. In adulthood, executive functions can help to reduce the risk of falls in complex gait situations, and in older adults, changes in executive functioning are associated with changes in different motor skills, as well as in motor planning.
This symposium will address the development of motor skills, motor planning, and executive functions in five talks. Thereby, it will first focus on the developmental pattern of motor planning skills during childhood (especially the critical age period of middle childhood) and on different measures and tasks to assess motor behaviour and planning skills: The first talk is about general motor skills and motor planning in middle childhood (Bianca Jovanovic); the subsequent talk will address motor planning in middle childhood and adulthood (Oliver Herbort). The symposium will secondly address potential interdependencies of motor planning with the development of executive functions across the lifespan – in infancy (Janna Gottwald), childhood (Matthias Weigelt) and in old age (Tino Stöckel). Different perspectives on the characteristics of this relation will be discussed.
This symposium will take place in
Hotel CASA, Eerste Ringdijkstaat 4, 1097 BC, Amsterdam,
on 2 June 2018, 11:00-12:30.
My project “An Embodied Account of Early Executive Functioning” will be funded by the Swedish Research Council with 3,300,000 SEK (340,000 EUR). This 3-year project will investigate executive functions in the first two years of life and will be located at Uppsala University.
The Swedish magazine of the teacher federation Förskolan interviewed me about my study published in Psychological Science (2016), where my colleagues and I demonstrated an association between prospective motor control and executive functions in 18-month-olds. It was a great experience talking to Linda Kling! You can read her interview “Motorik viktig för inlärning” here (in Swedish).