Understanding Gestures Project: Cognitive Development and Touchscreen Interaction in Younger Children

Since I joined the INIT lab, I have been working on preparing a study related to the Understanding Gestures project. The goal of the project is to examine the relationship between previous findings about children’s touch and gesture interactions and their cognitive development. Our lab’s previous work has shown that children’s gestures are not recognized as accurately as adults’ gestures and that there are significant differences in articulation features related to gesture production time and geometry. We have received inquiries from readers of our prior publications regarding the cognitive development of the children we collected data from, which led us to pursue this project on understanding how children’s cognitive development is related to the way they interact with touchscreen devices. We believe having this new information will help us gain a more comprehensive understanding of children’s touchscreen interactions.

Cognitive development is a field of study in neuroscience and psychology focusing on a children’s development in terms of information processing, problem solving, and decision making [1]. In our Understanding Gestures project, we are mainly concerned with children’s fine motor skills and children’s executive function, both of which exhibit variance across early ages of childhood and between genders. Fine motor skill measures the coordination of small muscles such as those in the finger and hand [2]. Executive function measures the ability to focus attention and execute tasks [3]. We plan on measuring these two aspects using NIH Toolbox®, a “comprehensive set of neuro-behavioral measurements that quickly assesses cognitive, emotional, sensory, and motor functions” [4]. The creators of the app, the National Institutes of Health, maintain a representative database for comparing children’s performance on the tasks based on their demographic information (e.g., age, gender, etc.). We are excited to be collaborating on this project with Dr. Pavlo Antonenko from the College of Education. We are looking forward to drawing connections between children’s touchscreen interactions and their cognitive development from this study.

I am a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Computer Science, and this is my first full semester in the INIT Lab. The process of preparing a study has been challenging but very interesting. I have always wanted to learn how to run a study and been curious about the work that goes into a research paper. As we prepare for the study, I have performed in-depth independent research on potential topics of exploration regarding children’s cognitive development. I have gained a great sense of accomplishment by playing a role in building the study from scratch, and I am looking forward to continuing my work on the study.



1. Ali, Ajmol & Pigou,Schacter, Daniel L (2009). PSYCHOLOGY. Catherine Woods. p. 429. ISBN 978-1-4292-3719-2.

2. Deborah & Clarke, Linda & Mclachlan, Claire. (2017). Review on Motor Skill and Physical Activity in Preschool Children in New Zealand. Advances in Physical Education. 7. 10-26. 10.4236/ape.2017.71002.

3. Team, Understood. “Understanding Executive Functioning Issues.” Understood.org, www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning- issues/understanding-executive-functioning-issues.

4. Weintraub, Sandra et al. “Cognition assessment using the NIH Toolbox.” Neurology vol. 80,11 Suppl 3 (2013): S54-64. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182872ded