Protracted development of motor cortex constrains rich interpretations of infant cognition

Mark S. Blumberg, Karen E. Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Cognition in preverbal human infants must be inferred from overt motor behaviors such as gaze shifts, head turns, or reaching for objects. However, infant mammals – including human infants – show protracted postnatal development of cortical motor outflow. Cortical control of eye, face, head, and limb movements is absent at birth and slowly emerges over the first postnatal year and beyond. Accordingly, the neonatal cortex in humans cannot generate the motor behaviors routinely used to support inferences about infants’ cognitive abilities, and thus claims of developmental continuity between infant and adult cognition are suspect. Recognition of the protracted development of motor cortex should temper rich interpretations of infant cognition and motivate more serious consideration of the role of subcortical mechanisms in early cognitive development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-245
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • core knowledge
  • eye movements
  • infant cognition
  • motor cortex
  • motor maps
  • visual system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Protracted development of motor cortex constrains rich interpretations of infant cognition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this