The development of tool use: Planning for end-state comfort

David M. Comalli, Rachel Keen, Evelyn S. Abraham, Victoria J. Foo, Mei Hua Lee, Karen E. Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some grips on the handle of a tool can be planned on the basis of information directly available in the scene. Other grips, however, must be planned on the basis of the final position of the hand. "End-state comfort" grips require an awkward or uncomfortable initial grip so as to later implement the action comfortably and efficiently. From a cognitive perspective, planning for end-state comfort requires a consistent representation of the entire action sequence, including the latter part, which is not based on information directly available in the scene. Many investigators have found that young children fail to demonstrate planning for end-state comfort and that adultlike performance does not appear until about 12 years of age. In 2 experiments, we used a hammering task that engaged children in a goal-directed action with multiple steps. We assessed end-state-comfort planning in novel ways by measuring children's hand choice, grip choice, and tool implementation over multiple trials. The hammering task also uniquely allowed us to assess the efficiency of implementation. We replicated the previous developmental trend in 4-, 8-, and 12-year-old children with our novel task. Most important, our data revealed that 4-year-olds are in a transitional stage during which several competing strategies were exhibited during a single session. Preschoolers changed their grip within trials and across trials, indicating awareness of errors and a willingness to sacrifice speed for more efficient implementation. The end-state-comfort grip initially competes as one grip type among many but gradually displaces all others. Children's sensitivity to costs and drive for efficiency may motivate this change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)878-1892
Number of pages1015
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Action planning
  • End-state comfort
  • Manual skills
  • Motor development
  • Tool use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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