Variations in infants’ physical and social environments shape spontaneous locomotion.

Justine Hoch, Christina Hospodar, Gabriela Koch da Costa Aguiar Alves, Karen Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Independent locomotion is associated with a range of positive developmental outcomes, but unlike cognitive, linguistic, and social skills, acquiring motor skills requires infants to generate their own input for learning. We tested factors that shape infants’ spontaneous locomotion by observing forty 12- to 22-month-olds (19 girls, 21 boys) during free play. Infants were recruited from the New York City area, and caregivers reported that 25 infants were White, six were Asian, four were Black, and five had multiple races; four were Hispanic or Latino. All infants played in four conditions: two environmental conditions (gross-motor toys, fine-motor toys) crossed with two social conditions (alone, together with a caregiver). Infants moved more in the gross-motor toy conditions than in the fine-motor toy conditions. However, the effect of playing with a caregiver differed by toy condition. In the gross-motor toy conditions, playing with a caregiver did not affect how much infants moved, but in the fine-motor toy conditions, playing with a caregiver further depressed infant locomotion. Infants with more walking experience moved more with gross-motor toys but not with fine-motor toys. Differences in the amount of locomotion between conditions were related to how infants used toys and the interactions between infants and caregivers. Toys like strollers, brooms, grocery carts, and balls, along with a “hands-off” caregiver play style, encourage toddlers to engage in locomotor play. In contrast, toys like pop-ups, xylophones, shape-sorters, and bricks, along with a “hands-on” caregiver play style, encourage more manual, stationary play.(PsycInfo

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)991-1001
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 22 2024


  • exploration
  • gross-motor play
  • infant locomotion
  • play
  • walking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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