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We study the development of infants and young children across multiple developmental domains, including perceptual-motor and social-cognitive with a focus on culture and context.

Through naturalistic and experimental investigations, we ask how infants’ emerging motor skills offer new opportunities to explore and navigate their surroundings, engage with people, and integrate social information from others in their learning.

Reciprocally, we examine how caregivers modify their expectations and change their behavior as a result of their children’s developing skills. Finally, we consider the role of culture and context in shaping childrearing beliefs and practices on children’s everyday experiences and subsequent effects on development.

How cultural practices shape infant development

In this project, we are studying the use of a traditional childrearing practice in Tajikistan, and throughout Central Asia—gahvora cradling—in which caregivers swaddle and bind infants in a wooden cradle. We are documenting how the cradle is used and its effects of infant physical, motor, social, and cognitive development and on infant nutrition.

We collect interviews and video data with caregivers. Additionally, we collect measure of infant physical development (heigh, weight, head circumference, and instances of plagiocephaly, brachycephaly, and torticollis), motor development (spontaneous motility, sitting, crawling, walking, object manipulation and exploration), social interaction (object sharing, infant-mother contingent responding, face-to-face interaction, social referencing). We have partnered with NYU, UNICEF, Save the Children, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tajikistan, and other clinical and scientific organizations abroad.

Researcher Rano Dodojonova interviews a Tajik mother about gahvora use and her baby’s daily activities.
Infant completing a crawling task.

In our longitudinal work, we follow children over several years. For example, we observed this baby when she was only 12 months old, and then again when she was 3 years.

Longitudinal study participant at 12 months.
Same participant at 3 years of age playing outside after the study session
Participant pushing younger sibling around in baby stroller