Opportunities for learning and social interaction in infant sitting: Effects of sitting support, sitting skill, and gross motor delay



Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Publication Title

Developmental Science








developmental delay, dyadic interaction, infancy, joint attention, motor development, sitting


The development of independent sitting changes everyday opportunities for learning and has cascading effects on cognitive and language development. Prior to independent sitting, infants experience the sitting position with physical support from caregivers. Why does supported sitting not provide the same input for learning that is experienced in independent sitting? This question is especially relevant for infants with gross motor delay, who require support in sitting for many months after typically developing infants sit independently. We observed infants with typical development (n = 34, ages 4–7 months) and infants with gross motor delay (n = 128, ages 7–16 months) in early stages of sitting development, and their caregivers, in a dyadic play observation. We predicted that infants who required caregiver support for sitting would spend more time facing away from the caregiver and less time contacting objects than infants who could sit independently. We also predicted that caregivers of supported sitters would spend less time contacting objects because their hands would be full supporting their infants. Our first two hypotheses were confirmed; however, caregivers spent surprisingly little time using both hands to provide support, and caregivers of supported sitters spent more time contacting objects than caregivers of independent sitters. Similar patterns were seen in the group of typically developing infants and the infants with motor delay. Our findings suggest that independent sitting and supported sitting provide qualitatively distinct experiences with different implications for social interaction and learning opportunities. Highlights: During seated free play, supported sitters spent more time facing away from their caregivers and less time handling objects than independent sitters. Caregivers who spent more time supporting infants with both hands spent less time handling objects; however, caregivers mostly supported infants with one or no hands. A continuous measure of sitting skill did not uniquely contribute to these behaviors beyond the effect of binary sitting support (supported vs. independent sitter). The pattern of results was similar for typically developing infants and infants with gross motor delay, despite differences in age.

Open Access