Cultural differences in infant motor development: A comparison of early locomotor experience

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
Author: Wang, Yitong
Infant motor development, much like developmental science, is based on studies with Western samples, yet ethnographic observations across diverse cultural contexts points to potential variability across cultural groups in infant experiences. To better understand whether group differences in early experience affect development, we examined 220 video recorded natural observations of 49 infants (M=12 mos, SD= .72, range = 10-15 mos) and their families in three culturally distinct societies: Tanna Island in Vanuatu, Aka foragers in the Central African Republic, and rural villages in Tajikistan. We determined the proportion of observed time in which infants were locomoting as well as the duration of time their movement was restricted by either a device or a caregiver. Overall we found that the more infants were restricted, the less then tended to move when they were left unrestricted (r = -.615, p < .001). We also found differences between cultural groups in infants' propensity to move spontaneously. Infants living in Tajikistan spent less time moving than infants living in Vanuatu (p = .023) and Aka infants (p = .001). We also found a similar pattern with the proportion of time infants were constrained, with Tajikistan infants being constrained more than Aka infants (p < .001) and Vanuatu infants (p = .008). Interestingly, we found that infants' cultural group did not have a significant contribution to the variance in the proportion of time infants were engaging in spontaneous locomotion (p = .153). This study provides further insight into the formative role of experience in motor development and highlights the importance of examining development across diverse social and ecological contexts. This study also underscores the importance of taking a nuanced approach to understanding group cultural differences.
26 pages.
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Thesis advisor: Broesch, Tanya
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