Part 1 Movement is No Longer a Cinderella

In 1985 Geoffrey Waldon began to “set [my] ideas down as a scientific theory, stating my definitions and axioms, and formulating testable hypotheses. In the first instance, I intend to do this in the form of five essays each of which, whilst being in some sense complete of itself, is meant to be read in conjunction with the others”.

His third (uncompleted) essay Movement and Sensibility:  Tolerance and Constraint – The Creation Of Perceptual Pattern – started as follows:

“The present paper [Meaning from Movement] is concerned with the forces which bring into being the highly improbable patterns from which the world of the human observer, indeed the identity of the observer himself, is created and which, despite their individual isolation, is nevertheless shared by all humans as the basis of understanding.”

Piaget had previously written in: The Psychology of the Child  (Basic Books, 1969 p. 28)

“the sensory-motor structures constitute the source of the later operations of thought. This means that intelligence proceeds from action as a whole, in that it transforms objects and reality, and that knowledge whose formation can be traced in the child, is essentially an active and operatory assimilation.”

The Cinderella of Psychology – The Neglect of Motor Control in the Science of Mental Life and Behavior American Psychologist May-June 2005 Vol. 60 No. 4 pp 308-317

David Rosenbaum Ph.D. is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Pennsylvania State University:-
“The role of movement in the development in the child was substantially ignored until the last twenty or so years. In his paper David Rosenbaum tried to explain the reasons for this neglect. He set out several hypotheses before dismissing or interpreting them.”

The No-Celebrity Hypothesis:   “One possibility is that no famous psychologists have studied motor control. This hypothesis is worth considering because luminaries attract acolytes, and if no psychologists of note have studied movement, it stands to reason that few psychologists, famous or otherwise, have gravitated to this topic.”

The Only-Human Hypothesis:  “Another hypothesis is that psychologists—and especially cognitive psychologists—are mainly interested in human mental life and behavior. Motor control is not very interesting, according to the only-human hypothesis, because the way humans move does not seem very different from the way animals move. Thought and language are what distinguish humans from animals. Consequently, if a cognitive psychology textbook discusses any form of motor control in detail, it is usually speech production.”

The Dumb-Jock Hypothesis:  “Another possible reason for the neglect of motor control in psychology is that motor activity does not appear to reflect much intelligence. According to the dumb-jock hypothesis, one does not have to be highly intelligent, as measured by IQ tests, to move well. Hence motor control is not very interesting.”

The Too-Hard-to-Study Hypothesis:  “Perhaps motor control is the Cinderella of psychology because it is too hard to study. This hypothesis has been publicized by at least two notable contributors to behavioral and neural science. Donald Broadbent (1993), a pioneer in applied and experimental psychology, wrote that motor performance has always been a neglected and deprived area of psychology. There are technical reasons for that; it is much harder to control what a person does than what stimulates them, and therefore harder to produce scientific laws of the type ‘A is followed by B.’ (p. 864)”

The Think-Before-You-Act Hypothesis:  “All the hypotheses considered so far were ones I raised and then dismissed. Now I consider three hypotheses that strike me as more viable. The first is the think-before-you-act hypothesis. The idea is that the core question in cognitive psychology—what is knowledge?—is not one that naturally inspires work on the question, How do people move? Scientific psychology originated in philosophy, many of whose long-standing questions had to do with epistemology: How do people come to know the world? Can people know the world as it really is or only as they imagine it? And so on.

Inheriting these concerns, psychologists were naturally inclined to investigate the topics listed in most cognitive psychology textbooks today: perception, attention, learning, and memory. Reasoning, decision making, and problem solving also fit in because they may illuminate how and what people learn.”

The Baby-With-the-Bathwater Hypothesis:   “I turn now to the penultimate hypothesis concerning psychology’s neglect of action—the baby-with-the-bathwater hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, when mainstream psychology rejected behaviorism—an approach that treated the response as the only admissible source of psychological data—it eschewed response measures more sweepingly than would have occurred otherwise. The study of motor control was guilty by association. Motor behavior was associated with mindlessness, and a mindless response-centered program of research was anathema to psychologists basking in the glow of cognitivism.”

The Neuroscientists-Have-It-Covered Hypothesis:  “The final viable hypothesis about the cause of psychology’s neglect of motor control is that motor control has long been a forte of neuroscience. Why study a topic when another group of researchers handles it well?”

“My aim,” Rosenbaum concludes, – “has been to point out that motor control, which one may argue lies at the heart of the science of mental life and behavior because it joins the two, has had a surprisingly modest presence in psychology. The reasons, I have suggested, are intellectual and economic. Intellectually, psychology grew out of philosophy, where questions of knowing were taken to be quintessential to epistemology. Only recently have psychologists come to appreciate that acting and knowing are inseparable (Carlson, 1997), and only recently have psychologists come to appreciate that purposeful movement helps initiate or sustain perception–action cycles rather than just being a response to input. Economically, psychologists have been inclined to work on problems for which they were especially well equipped. Thus, motor control, long a jewel in the crown of neuroscience, became less attractive than other topics for which psychologists felt they could make more distinctive contributions.

Will psychologists pay more attention to motor control in the future? There are reasons to think they will. One is that the division between neuroscience and psychology is blurring. Neuroscientists are becoming more interested in the insights that psychologists can provide and vice versa. As more neuroscientists identify with psychologists and as more psychologists identify with neuroscientists, motor control is becoming an interdisciplinary topic to which psychologists are being invited.”

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Walter Solomon is the father of Robert, the autistic boy who is the first subject of the book. He was educated at St Paul’s School, London and has a Masters degree in economics from Cambridge. He is a passionate advocate of the Waldon Approach, works with developmentally delayed children and adults in three different locations in Israel. He lives in Zur Hadassah a small town in a beautiful wine growing area in the Jerusalem hills.