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The Tajikistan Project

“We must perceive in order to move, but we must also move in order to perceive”. With advances in mobility, infants’ perceptual experiences expand, and in turn promote further action. One challenge associated with investigating the reciprocal influence of action and perception is that these competencies develop synergistically, preventing examination of the relative influence of one on the other, but a traditional childrearing practice in Tajikistan—common throughout Central Asia—offers a rare opportunity to study effects of early immobility on perceptual development in humans. Caregivers use a “gahvora” cradle during infants’ first two years of life to sleep, toilet, and keep infants throughout the day. In the cradle, infants’ legs, arms, and torso are swaddled and bound with heavy drapes placed over the entire cradle. Daily gahvora use is extensive especially during younger ages, and decreases with infants’ age from close to 18 hours a day at 0-4 months to more like 7 hours a day by 24 months. Previous research by ELab collaborators has shown that onset ages for sitting, crawling, cruising, and walking are delayed in Tajik infants relative to Western norms.

The main interest of this study is to examine aspects of visual and auditory perception to ask whether partial visual and motor restriction affects the development of basic perceptual competencies such as pairing sights and sounds, and perceiving motion. To address these questions, we will to collect data in villages in Sughd located in the northern part of Tajikistan, where climate is harsh, water is scarce, and economic resources are limited, and in the Metro Twin Cities in Minnesota (Western infants). We intend to collect data from 3, 6, 9, and 12 months olds to map the early developmental trajectory of intermodal perception and motion perception in the two cultures.

This research could have far-reaching implications. Most of our knowledge of human development is based on research done on Western populations. This cross-cultural comparison could call into question what we think we know about perceptual development. Furthermore, this study could provide information about the interaction between the development of perception and action in infancy.

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