Look before you fit: The real-time planning cascade in children and adults

Ori Ossmy, Danyang Han, Minxin Cheng, Brianna E. Kaplan, Karen E. Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Goal-directed actions involve problem solving—how to coordinate perception and action to get the job done. Whereas previous work focused on the ages at which children succeed in problem solving, we focused on how children solve motor problems in real time. We used object fitting as a model system to understand how perception and action unfold from moment to moment. Preschoolers (N = 25) and adults (N = 24) inserted three-dimensional objects into their corresponding openings in a “shape-sorting” box. We applied a new combination of real-time methods to the problem of object fitting—head-mounted eye tracking to record looking behaviors, video microcoding to record adjustments in object orientation between reach and insertion, and real-time analysis techniques (recurrent quantification analysis and Granger causality) to test the timing relations between visual and manual actions. Children, like adults, solved the problem successfully. However, adults outperformed children in terms of their speed of fitting, and speed depended on when adjustments of object orientation occurred. Adults adjusted object orientation during transport, whereas children adjusted object orientation after arriving at the box. Children's delays in adjustment resulted from delays in looking at the target shape and its corresponding aperture. Findings show that planning is a real-time cascade of perception and action, and looking provides the basis for planning actions prospectively. We suggest that developmental improvements in problem solving are driven by real-time changes in the instigation of the planning cascade and the timing of its components.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104696
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Eye tracking
  • Manual skills
  • Motor development
  • Object fitting
  • Planning
  • Problem solving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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