[conference] Symposium talks @SRCD in Baltimore, USA (March 2019)

Janna Gottwald (Uppsala, Sweden), Michelle Maurer (Bern, Switzerland), Derek Becker (North Carolina, USA), Annina Zysset (Zurich, Switzerland)

(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.

Janna Gottwald @SRCD talking about dynamic systems: Skills emerge as result of interaction of individual, task and environmental constraints

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 representationAndrew 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.

Janna Gottwald @SRCD presenting raincloud-plotted data from recent work with Dorothy Cowie. Preprint here: https://psyarxiv.com/62aqc/

[conference] Upcoming Symposium at Jean Piaget Society 48th Annual Conference 2018 in Amsterdam

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.

JPS Conference Programme 
JPS Conference Webpage

[media] article in magazine Förskolan

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).

[media] article in online magazine Special Nest

The Swedish online magazine Special Nest 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 nice experience talking to Thomas Gustafsson! You can find his article “Motorik kopplas till exekutiva funktioner hos spädbarn” here (in Swedish).

[publication] review on prospective motor control

Measuring prospective motor control in action development

Gottwald, J.M. (2017). Measuring prospective motor control in action development. Journal of Motor Learning and Development. Advance online publication. Find this article here

Abstract: This article critically reviews kinematic measures of prospective motor control. Prospective motor control, the ability to anticipatorily adjust movements with respect to task demands and action goals, is an important process involved in action planning. In manual object manipulation tasks, prospective motor control has been studied in various ways mainly using motion-tracking. For this matter, it is crucial to pinpoint the early part of the movement that purely reflects prospective (feed-forward) processes, but not feedback influences from the unfolding movement. One way of defining this period is to rely on a fixed time criterion; another is to base it flexibly on the inherent structure of each movement itself. Velocity – as one key characteristic of human movement – offers such a possibility and describes the structure of movements in a meaningful way. Here, I argue for the latter way of investigating prospective motor control by applying the measure of peak velocity of the first movement unit. I further discuss movement units and their significance in motor development of infants and contrast the introduced measure with other peak-velocity related measures and duration related measures.

[publication] infants motor planning

Infants prospectively control reaching based on the difficulty of future actions – To what extent can infants’ multiple step actions be explained by Fitts’ law? 

Gottwald, J.M., De Bortoli Vizioli, A., Lindskog, M., Nyström, P., Ekberg, T.L., von Hofsten, C., & Gredebäck, G. (2017). Infants prospectively control reaching based on the difficulty of future actions – To what extent can infants’ multiple step actions be explained by Fitts’ law? Developmental Psychology, 53(1), 4-12. Find this article here

Abstract: Prospective motor control, a key element of action planning, is the ability to adjust one’s actions with respect to task demands and action goals in an anticipatory manner. The current study investigates whether 14-month-olds can prospectively control their reaching actions based on the difficulty of the subsequent action. We used a reach-to-place task, with difficulty of the placing action varied by goal size and goal distance. To target prospective motor control, we determined the kinematics of the prior reaching movements using a motion-tracking system. Peak velocity of the first movement unit of the reach served as indicator for prospective motor control. Both difficulty aspects (goal size and goal distance) affected prior reaching, suggesting that both these aspects of the subsequent action have an impact on the prior action. The smaller the goal size and the longer the distance to the goal, the slower infants were in the beginning of their reach toward the object. Additionally, we modeled movement times of both reaching and placing actions using a formulation of Fitts’ law (as in heading). The model was significant for placement and reaching movement times. These findings suggest that 14-month-olds can plan their future actions and prospectively control their related movements with respect to future task difficulties.

[publication] early executive functions

An embodied account of early executive-functions development: Prospective motor control in infancy is related to inhibition and working memory 

Gottwald, J.M., Achermann, S., Lindskog, M., Marciszko, C., & Gredebäck, G. (2016). An embodied account of early executive-functions development: Prospective motor control in
infancy is related to inhibition and working memory. Psychological Science, 27(12), 1600-1610. Find this article here

Abstract: The importance of executive functioning for later life outcomes, along with its potential to be positively affected by intervention programs, motivates the need to find early markers of executive functioning. In this study, 18-month- olds performed three executive-function tasks—involving simple inhibition, working memory, and more complex inhibition—and a motion-capture task assessing prospective motor control during reaching. We demonstrated that prospective motor control, as measured by the peak velocity of the first movement unit, is related to infants’ performance on simple-inhibition and working memory tasks. The current study provides evidence that motor control and executive functioning are intertwined early in life, which suggests an embodied perspective on executive- functioning development. We argue that executive functions and prospective motor control develop from a common source and a single motive: to control action. This is the first demonstration that low-level movement planning is related to higher-order executive control early in life.