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Motor, attentional, and haptic development in full -term infants and in infants born preterm

Laura Paradise O'Sullivan, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Many aspects of development appear to follow a trajectory that is, in part, dependent upon biological maturity. Reaching, attention, and haptic development proceed along trajectories that progress from slower, less controlled forms of behavior to quicker and more optimal forms. In the absence of major medical complications, preterm development has been hypothesized to follow biologically based trajectories. Based on this assumption, preterm and full-term development are often equated, following correction for prematurity. This study examined the reaching, attentional, and haptic development, and novelty/familiarity preference, of full-term (6-, 8-, and 10-months) and preterm (8-, 10-, and 12-months) infants, using a longitudinal paired-comparison paradigm. The majority of the preterm infants were considered to be healthy and of low-risk status, with an average gestational age of 34 weeks and an average birth weight of 4.91 pounds. Behavioral and kinematic measures were assessed and compared within and between groups, in an effort to determine how, if at all, development was affected by preterm birth. The results reveal a complex developmental trajectory for preterm infants, with patterns of behaviors following paths that were similar but advanced, similar but delayed, and atypical, when compared to full-term infants. In addition, the patterns of development were not consistent within any one area, with similar/advanced, similar/delayed, and atypical behaviors prevalent within the reaching, visual attention, and haptic domains. Despite the behavioral differences of the preterm infants, their functional abilities were similar to those of the full-term infants. Preterm infants were just as likely to reach for and obtain the object of interest, even though certain aspects of the developmental trajectory of the reaches differed from those of full-term infants. In addition, although the preterm infants' visual and haptic explorations differed, both quantitatively and qualitatively, from those of the full-term infants, they distinguished and preferred the novel toy as readily. Thus, correcting for prematurity does not sufficiently equate preterm and full-term infant development. Preterm birth appears to fundamentally alter aspects of development, which results in behaviors that cannot be measured by comparison with full-term development. Instead, preterm infants should be evaluated based on the characteristics inherent in the preterm population.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

O'Sullivan, Laura Paradise, "Motor, attentional, and haptic development in full -term infants and in infants born preterm" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3096307.