Assessing motivation to move and its relationship to motor development in infancy

Osnat Atun-Einy, Sarah E. Berger, Anat Scher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Motivation to move has typically been a post hoc explanation for infants' discovery of new patterns of behavior. As a first step to studying motivation to move directly, we qualitatively assessed motivation to move and measured its relationship to motor development in infancy. We observed 27 infants longitudinally from ages 7 to 12 months. Every 3 weeks we assessed infants' motor motivation based on persistence, activity level, activity preference, and stimulus strength needed to elicit movement. We documented the onset of sitting, pulling-to-stand, crawling and cruising, as well as infants' overall motor development as measured with the Alberta Infant Motor Scale (AIMS). Motor motivation increased over the course of the study and we identified two distinct motivation profiles. Strongly motivated infants had earlier onsets for all four motor milestones than weakly motivated infants (all p-values <0.05). Infants' motivation to move score was positively correlated with their AIMS percentile at the same and subsequent sessions. These findings provide empirical evidence for a motivational cascade whereby motivation to move and motor development enjoy a reciprocal relationship. These findings have important clinical implications for children with motor delay, suggesting that evaluation of motivation could be included as part of the assessment procedure so that both treatment and expectations can be tailored appropriately.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-469
Number of pages13
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article is based on data collected by Osnat Atun-Einy in partial fulfillment of the doctoral dissertation at the Department of Counseling and Human Development, University of Haifa, under the supervision of Anat Scher. This research was supported by Israel Science Foundation Grant No. 208/07 to Anat Scher and a 2010–2011 Fulbright Research Fellowship to Sarah E. Berger. We gratefully acknowledge Moran Samuel for assistance with data collection and data coding; Sandra Zuckerman for data management and analysis; and all of the infants and their families for their enthusiasm for and commitment to participating in this research. Appendix A Coding criteria for motivation to move score. Factors/score Persistence to move relative to difficulty Frequency of changes in position Proportion of session spent in motion Strength of stimulus to elicit movement Preference for high or low energy activities 1 Rarely attempts a new or challenging motor skill, if so gives up easily Rarely changes positions Remains stationary almost entire observation, when moves does so slowly High external encouragement to move results in little to no movement Prefers stationary and very low energy motor skills (i.e., lying supine and sitting still) 2 Very few attempts to try a new or challenging motor skill, if so usually gives up easily Changes positions infrequently; usually to a preferred position Prefer to be stationary, can move but intensity is low-to-average. Needs high external stimulation in order to move Prefers activities requiring little energy 3 Attempts to initiate a new or challenging motor skill, can try several times before giving up or succeeding Changes position from time to time depending on context Engaged both in motion and stationary without preference, depending on context Needs moderate external encouragement to move; can move spontaneously to reach a goal Engages in both high and low energy activities. (High: crawling, climbing, squatting, walking, PTS; Moderate: kneeling, four point kneeling, standing with assistance) 4 Makes multiple attempts to initiate a new or challenging motor skill, shows persistence Changes position often Prefers moving over staying still, movements are quick. Spends more time in motion than stationary Does not need clear stimulation to move; can move for the sake of moving or for external stimulus Prefers high energy activities 5 Repeatedly tries new or challenging motor skills, usually until achieving Changes positions almost constantly Prefers to move, rarely staying still; movements are very quick Moves for the sake of moving; no external stimulation needed to elicit movement Almost exclusively high energy activities


  • Individual differences
  • Infancy
  • Motivation to move
  • Motivational cascade
  • Motor development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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