TitlePrematurity may negatively impact means-end problem solving across the first two years of life
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsCunha, ABaraldi, Babik, I, Ross, SM, Logan, SW, Galloway, JC, Clary, E, Lobo, MA
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Date Published01/2018


  • Means-end performance was assessed longitudinally for full-term and preterm infants.
  • Preterm infants had delays in learning, behavioral performance, and intentionality.
  • Higher amounts of exploration related to greater future success in the tasks.
  • Behavioral variability decreased with learning and differed for preterm infants.
  • Implications for early assessment and intervention are discussed.


Preterm infants are at risk for delays in motor, perceptual, and cognitive development. While research has shown preterm infants may exhibit learning delays in the first months of life, these delays are commonly under-diagnosed. The purpose of this study was to longitudinally evaluate behavioral performance and learning in two means-end problem-solving tasks for 30 infants born preterm (PT) and 23 born full-term (FT). Infants were assessed at 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 months-old in tasks that required towel pulling or turntable rotation to obtain a distant object. PT infants performed more non–goal-directed and less goal-directed behavior than FT infants throughout the study, resulting in a lower success rate among PT infants. PT infants showed delayed emergence of intentionality (prevalence of goal-directed behaviors) compared to FT infants in both tasks. Amount and variability of behavioral performance significantly correlated with task success differentially across age. The learning differences documented between PT and FT infants suggest means-end problem-solving tasks may be useful for the early detection of learning delays. The identification of behaviors associated with learning and success across age may be used to guide interventions aimed at advancing early learning for infants at risk.

Short TitleResearch in Developmental Disabilities