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Amy Needham

Professor of Psychology and Human Development
Member, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

Professor Amy Needham studies how infants and young children learn with their hands. What children do with their hands has long been a focus of study for developmental psychologists, but using new methods of developmental science has allowed researchers to make new discoveries about infant learning skills. She is also working to understand atypical pathways of development, such as those experienced by children with Down syndrome, because comparisons between typical and atypical pathways of development can help us understand underlying mechanisms. Current projects are investigating (a) relations between early perceptual-motor experiences and later tool use in typical development, (b) how young children with Down syndrome use the feedback they receive from their exploration of objects, and (c) the development of fine motor skills in young people with and without Down syndrome.

Previous Position

  • Associate Professor, Duke University

Lab Website

Representative Publications

* Student or trainee at time of data collection 

Malachowski, L.G.*, & Needham, A.W. (in press). Infants exploring objects: A cascades perspective. In J.J. Lockman and C. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.), Advances in Child Development and Behavior. Elsevier Press.

Schworer*, E., Fidler, D.F., Kaur, M*., Needham, A.W., Prince, M.A., Daunhauer, L.A. (2022). Infant precursors of executive function in Down syndrome. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 66(1-2), 108-120. 

Needham, A.W., Nelson, E.L., Short, A.D.*, Daunhauer, L.A., & Fidler, D.J. (2021). The emergence of fine motor skills in children with Down syndrome. International Review of Research in Developmental Disabilities, vol. 60, 113-151.

Fidler, D.J., Schworer, E.*, Needham, A.W., Prince, M.A., Patel, L., & Daunhauer, L.A. (2021). Feasibility of a syndrome-informed micro-intervention for infants with Down syndrome. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 65(4), 320-339.

Needham, A.W. (2021). Learning from sticky mittens: Commentary on van den Berg & Gredeback (2020). Developmental Science, 24(4), p.e13083-n/a

Maitre, N.L., Jeanvoine, A., Yoder, P., Key, A.P., Slaughter, J.C., Carey, H., Needham, A., Murray, M.M., Heathcock, J., & the BBOP group. (2020). Kinematic and somatosensory gains in infants with cerebral palsy after a multi-component upper-extremity intervention: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Topography, 33: 751-766.

Kaur, M.,* Detherage, A.*, & Needham, A.W. (2020). Unconventional tool use in infants: Using a familiar tool in a novel way in the second year of life. Cognitive Development, 54, 100881.

Osina, M.A., Needham, A.W., Saylor, M.M. (2019). Twelve-month-old infants respond to speech about absent inaccessible objects. Child Development.

Fidler, D.J., Schworer, E.*, Prince, M., Will, E., Patel, L., Needham, A.W., & Daunhauer, L. (2019).  Early exploratory profiles and developmental skill acquisition in infants with Down syndrome. Infant Behavior and Development, 56, 41-65.

Needham, A.W., Wiesen, S.E.*, Hejazi, J.N.*, Libertus, K.*, & Christopher, C.* (2017). Characteristics of brief sticky mittens training that lead to increases in object exploration. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 164, 209-224.

Libertus, K.*, Greif, M.L.*, Needham, A.W., & Pelphrey, K. (2016). Infants’ observation of tool-use events over the first year of life. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 152, 123-135.

Libertus, K.*, Joh, A.S., & Needham, A.W. (2016). Motor training at 3 months affects object exploration 12 months later. Developmental Science, 19(6), 1058-1066. Doi:10.1111/desc.12370

Wiesen, S. E.*, Watkins, R. M.*, & Needham, A.W. (2016). Active motor training has long-term effects on infants’ object exploration. Frontiers in Psychology, 7: 599. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00599

Chorna, O., Heathcock, J., Key, A., Noritz, G., Carey, H., Hamm, E., Nelin, M.A., Murray, M., Needham, A., Slaughter, J.C., & Maitre, N.L. (2015). Early childhood constraint therapy for sensory/motorimpairment in cerebral palsy: a randomized clinical trial protocol. BMJ Open, 5,e010212. Doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010212.

Needham, A., Wiesen, S.E.*, & Libertus, K. (2015). Sticky mittens, prickly Velcro, and infants’ transition into independent reaching: Response to Williams, Corbetta, and Guan (2015). Infant Behavior and Development, 41, 38-42.

Libertus, K.*, & Needham, A. (2014).  Face preference in infancy and its relation to motor activity.  International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38, 529-538.

Needham, A., Joh, A.S., Wiesen, S.E.*, & Williams, N.* (2014). Effects of contingent reinforcement of actions on infants’ object-directed reaching.  Infancy, 19, 496-517.

Libertus, K.*, & Needham, A. (2014). Experience is nothing without control: Factors influencing the development of reaching and face preference.  Journal of Motor Learning and Development, 2, 16-27.

Needham, A., Goldstone, R.L., & Wiesen, S.E. (2014). Learning visual units after brief experience in 10-month-old infants.  Cognitive Science, 38, 1507-1519. DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12123

Libertus, K., & Needham, A. (in press). Face preference in infancy and its relation to motor activity.  International Journal of Behavioral Development.

Libertus, K., & Needham, A. (2014).  Encouragement is nothing without control:  Factors influencing the development of reaching and face preference.  Journal of Motor Learning and Development, 2, 16-27.

Libertus, K., Gibson, J.N., Hidayatallah, N.Z., Hirtle, J.A.T., Adcock, R.A., & Needham, A. (2013).  Size matters:  How age and reaching experiences shape infants' preference for different sized objects.  Infant Behavior and Development, 36, 189-198.

Libertus, K., & Needham, A. (2011).  Reaching experiences increase face preference in 3-month-old infants.  Developmental Science, 14, 1255-1486.

Kaufman, J., & Needham, A. (2011). Spatial expectations of young human infants following passive movement.  Developmental Psychobiology, 53, 23-36.

Greif, M.L., & Needham, A. (2011).  The development of human tool use early in life.  In T. McCormack (ed.) Tool use and causal cognition (pp. 51-68).  Oxford University Press.

Needham, A., & Libertus, K., (2011).  Embodiment  in Early Development.  Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews:  Cognitive Science, 2, 117-123.

Libertus, K., Needham, A. (2010). Teach to Reach: The Effects of Active Versus Passive Reaching Experiences on Action and Perception. Vision Research, 50(24), 2750-2757.

Kaufman, J., & Needham, A. (2010).  The role of surface discontinuity and shape in 4-month-old infants’ object segregation.  Visual Cognition, 18, 751-766.

Needham, A. (2009).  Learning in infants’ object perception, object-directed action, and tool use.  In A. Needham & A. Woodward (Eds.) Learning and the Infant Mind. (pp. 208-226).  Oxford University Press.

Barrett, T., & Needham, A. (2008). Developmental differences in infants’ use of an object’s shape to grasp it securely.  Developmental Psychobiology, 50, 97-106.

Barrett, T. M., Traupman, E., & Needham, A. (2008). Infants’ visual anticipation of object structure in grasp planning.  Infant Behavior and Development, 31, 1-9.

Fitzpatrick, P., Needham, A., Natale, L., & Metta, G. (2008). Shared challenges in object perception for robots and infants. Infant and Child Development, 17, 7-24.

Barrett, T.M., Davis, E.F., & Needham, A. (2007). Learning about tools in infancy. Developmental Psychology, 43(2), 352-368.

Needham, A., Cantlon, J.F., & Ormsbee Holley, S.M. (2006). Infants' use of category knowledge and object attributes when segregating objects at 8.5 months of age. Cognitive Psychology, 53, 345-360.

Sommerville, J.A., Woodward, A.L., & Needham, A. (2005). Action experience alters 3-month-old infants' perception of others' actions. Cognition, 96, B1-B11.

Needham, A., Dueker, G.L., & Lockhead, G. (2005). Infants' formation and use of categories to segregate objects. Cognition, 94, 215-240.

Dueker, G.L., & Needham, A. (2005). Infants' object category formation and use: Real-world context effects on cateory use in object processing. Visual Cognition, 12, 1177-1198.

Needham, A., & Ormsbee, S.M. (2003). The Development of Object Segregation During the First Year of Life." Preceptual Organization in Vision: Behavioral and Neural Perspectives. Ed. R. Kimchi, M. Behrmann, and C. Olson Carngie Symposium on Cognition. Mahwah, New Jersey. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 205-232.

Dueker, G., Modi, A., & Needham, A. (2003). 4.5-month-old infants learning, retention, and use of object boundary information. Infant Behavior and Development, 26(4), 588-605.

Needham, A., Barrett, T., & Peterman, K. (2002). A Pick-Me-Up for Infants' Exploratory Skills: Early Stimulated Experiences Reaching for Objects Using 'Sticky Mittens' Enhances Young Infrants' Object Exploration Skills. Infant Behavior and Development, 25, 279-295.