Bouts of steps: The organization of infant exploration

Whitney G. Cole, Scott R. Robinson, Karen E. Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adults primarily walk to reach a new location, but why do infants walk? Do infants, like adults, walk to travel to a distant goal? We observed 30 13-month-old and 30 19-month-old infants during natural walking in a laboratory playroom. We characterized the bout structure of walking-when infants start and stop walking-to examine why infants start and stop walking. Locomotor activity was composed largely of brief spurts of walking. Half of 13-month-olds' bouts and 41% of 19-month-olds' bouts consisted of three or fewer steps-too few to carry infants to a distant goal. Most bouts ended in the middle of the floor, not at a recognizable goal. Survival analyses of the distribution of steps per bout indicated that the probability of continuing to walk was independent of the length of the ongoing bout; infants were just as likely to stop walking after five steps as after 50 steps and they showed no bias toward bouts long enough to carry them across the room to a goal. However, 13-month-olds showed an increased probability of stopping after 1-3 steps, and they did not initiate walking more frequently to compensate for their surfeit of short bouts. We propose that infants' natural walking is not intentionally directed at distant goals; rather, it is a stochastic process that serves exploratory functions. Relations between the bout structure of walking and other measures of walking suggest that locomotor exploration is constrained by walking skill in younger infants, but not in older infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-354
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Exploration
  • Infant
  • Locomotion
  • Survivor analysis
  • Walking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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