Reflections on motor development research across the 20th century: six empirical studies that changed the field

Jane E. Clark, Farid Bardid, Nancy Getchell, Leah E. Robinson, Nadja Schott, Jill Whitall

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Motor development research has had a rich history over the 20th century with a wide array of scientists contributing to a broad and deep body of literature. Just like the process of development, progress within the field has been non-linear, with rapid periods of growth occurring after the publication of key research articles that changed how we conceptualized and explored motor development. These publications provided new ways to consider developmental issues and, as a result, ignited change in our theoretical and empirical approaches within the field of motor development and the broader field of developmental psychology. In this paper, we outline and discuss six pioneering studies that we consider significant in their impact and in the field's evolution, in order of publication: Halverson, 1931; Wild, 1938; Gibson & Walk, 1960; Connolly, Brown, & Bassett, 1968; Thelen & Fisher, 1982; Thelen & Ulrich, 1991. We have limited this review to empirical papers only. Together, they offer insight into what motor development research is, where it came from, why it matters, and what it has achieved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438–454
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Motor Learning and Development
Issue number2
Early online date11 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2020


  • motor development
  • research
  • developmental issues

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