Early motor experiences can shape infants' preferences for objects and faces, researchers have suggested.
The study demonstrated that providing infants with "sticky mittens" to manipulate toys increases their subsequent interest in faces, suggesting advanced social development.
This findings support a growing body of evidence that early motor development and self-produced motor experiences contribute to infants' understanding of the social world around them.
Conversely, this implies that when motor skills are delayed or impaired - as in autism - future social interactions and development could be negatively impacted.
"Our results provide us with a new way to think about typical, and also atypical, development," said Klaus Libertus, PhD, the study's lead author and a research scientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders.
"The mind is not independent from the body, especially during development. As motor skills advance, other domains follow suit, indicating strong connections between seemingly unrelated domains.
"Such connections have exciting implications, suggesting that interventions could target the motor domain to foster social development."
While the current study was conducted with typically developing infants, it indicates that infants who are at risk for ASD or show signs of abnormal social development may benefit from motor training as early as 3 months of age.
The study has been published in the journal Developmental Science