Play and Exploration in Children and Animals

By Thomas G. Power | Go to book overview

3 Solitary Object Exploration and Play in Children

Child development researchers have long been interested in children's object-directed behavior. Major theories that have focused on the role of object-related experiences in child development include Piaget's ( 1952) theory of sensorimotor development, White's ( 1959) theory of mastery motivation, Hunt's ( 1965) theory of intrinsic motivation, and Gibson's ( 1988) theory of perception. These theories, along with many others, have stimulated a great deal of research on children's object-directed behavior.

The current review yields several conclusions. First, regardless of culture, the object-directed behaviors of humans during the first year of life are very similar to those of other primates during that same age period. There is, however, considerable divergence between human and other primates in the second year, with the development of complex relational and pretend play. Second, despite numerous cross-cultural similarities in the development of object-directed behaviors in young children, the total amount and quality of such behavior varies considerably by culture -- possibly a result of cultural differences in opportunities for and the encouragement of object manipulation. Third, during the preschool and early childhood years, the nature of object manipulation changes dramatically -- apparently as a function of the child's developing cognitive and motor skills. And finally, despite differences in the functions of exploratory, play, and tool-use behaviors, the nature of developmental differences in these contexts are remarkably similar.

The review is organized as follows. First, studies of undifferentiated object manipulation during the first 2 years of life are reviewed, to identify similarities and differences in the object manipulation of human infants and other primates. Also considered are studies employing higher level measures of manipulatory style and studies of developmental differences. Following this review are separate sections devoted to object exploration, play,

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