Toward an Action-Based Theory of Infant Development

  • Esther Thelen
  • Alan Fogel
Part of the Perspectives in Developmental Psychology book series (PDPS)


The purpose of this chapter is to explore a theory of infant development grounded in an analysis of action. This account differs from customary theories of early development in several ways. First, it is preeminently a movement-based, “bottom-up” account of behavior in the sensorimotor period. Developmentalists, like other psychologists, have been concerned primarily with the formation of the complex symbolic and affective processes of the “life of the mind” and have paid less attention to the translation of ideas into movement—a “life of the limbs.” Infants, however, are born with much movement and few ideas and, for the first year or so, lack symbolic and verbal mediating mechanisms between their mental state and the expressions of their bodies and limbs. At this stage of the life cycle, then, the link between the developing mind and the developing limbs may be especially direct. We see this formulation in no way competing with theories that focus more directly on mental structures but rather as a complement and supplement to understanding the development of cognition.


Developmental Change Motor Behavior Young Infant Motor Development Coordinative Structure 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Esther Thelen
    • 1
  • Alan Fogel
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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