Second-order motor planning in children: insights from a cup-manipulation-task

Kathrin Wunsch, Daniel J. Weiss, Thomas Schack, Matthias Weigelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The present study examined the development of anticipatory motor planning in an object manipulation task that has been used to successfully demonstrate motor planning in non-human primates (Weiss et al. in Psychol Sci 18:1063–1068, 2007). Seventy-five participants from four different age groups participated in a cup-manipulation task. One group was preschool children (average age of 5.1 years), two groups were primary school children (7.7 and 9.8 years old respectively) and the final group was comprised of adults. The experimental task entailed reaching for a plastic cup that was vertically suspended in an apparatus in either upright or inverted orientation, removing the cup by its stem and then retrieving a small toy from the inside of the cup. When the cup was inverted in the apparatus, evidence for anticipatory motor planning could be achieved by initially gripping the stem using an inverted (thumb-down) grip posture. We found that when the cup was in upright orientation, all participants reached for the cup using an upright grip (i.e. thumb-up posture). However, when the cup was inverted in the apparatus, only adults consistently used an inverted grasping posture, though the percentage of inverted grips among participants did increase with age. These results suggest a protracted development for anticipatory motor planning abilities in children. Surprisingly, the performance of adults on this task more closely resembles the performance of several nonhuman primate species as opposed to children even at approximately 10 years of age. We discuss how morphological constraints on flexibility may help account for these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-677
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 15 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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