Jeffrey Lockman, PhD

Developmental Psychologist
Jeffrey Lockman, PhD
“I study early development, from infants to young children, and I focus on what I call perception action skills.”

Tool Time

Jeffrey Lockman, PhD, studies how babies begin to use objects in a tool-like manner, which is a precursor to the motor skills needed to hammer and write, among other developmental milestones. He also works on understanding spatial cognition in children, focusing on how they integrate motor skills with thought processes.

“I became interested in babies because they present a very interesting challenge,” he says. “They clearly are capable of thinking but they can’t quite tell us through language what they are thinking or what their thought processes are.”

In his laboratory at Tulane University, Lockman and his graduate student research team watch what babies do with their hands, where they look and how they solve problems. “One of the things we look at, for example, is how babies bang objects,” he says. “That’s a very common behavior. One of the things we’ve tried to show is that this transitions into a very important form of tool use – hammering.”

This behavior sets the stage for more complex problem-solving skills, as well as the development of motor patterns that evolve into different forms of tool use.

Developmental Psychology and Children

Observing Tool Use

Developmental psychologist Jeffrey Lockman studies how infants learn to use tools and how children develop hand-eye coordination.

The Eyes Have It

Working with older children, Lockman uses eye-tracking technology to understand the arc of their development, from object manipulation to learning how to write. The researchers attach an apparatus with two video cameras to the children’s heads. It videotapes what a child is trying to write or copy and what he or she is looking at. “We can look at how the child glances back and forth, and how the hand movements are related to the eye movements,” Lockman says. “It’s a very complex dance between what the child sees and what the child is writing.”

What the researchers learn from these observations is how the children’s movements become more automatic as the kids get older. Without using these scientific methods, Lockman says younger children’s behavior would appear to be random. But with systematic observation, “we really see that their behavior is very well-organized,” he says.

The upshot is that Lockman and his colleagues have learned that cognitive and motor skills building blocks are present in infancy, and continue to develop all the way through school and into adulthood. This research benefits parents, who want to know what their babies and children are capable of at certain ages. It also helps teachers figure out what types of play might be best for children at different development stages. And for health and medical professionals, understanding these milestones helps them see if a child is on track in development.

Dr. Lockman in Action

Dr. Lockman testing a young boy

Tracking Eye Movement

Dr. Lockman observes the relationship between hand and eye movement in young children.
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Babies are Teachers, Too

Lockman began college as a math and chemistry major, “but I took a psychology course, and it just sparked my interest, in part because of the idea that you could study behavior scientifically.” As he learned more about psychology, he felt it was a better fit than math or chemistry because he could be more creative.

Today, he says, one of the joys of being a developmental psychologist is getting to work in his lab with students at all levels, both undergraduate and graduate. “I feel that we are, together, engaged in a process of discovery and we are working toward a common goal,” he says. “I’m constantly learning new things, both from the students but also from the babies.”

“I like to say that it’s looking at infant behavior in a child-positive way. Just a simple example, a baby banging an object at a restaurant may be very annoying … but if you frame it in a way that, ‘well, this baby’s really trying to explore something; this child is really trying to learn how to control its arm movements,’ it makes you appreciate how motivated babies are to learn about the world.”

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychologists focus on human growth and changes in development across the lifespan, including physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality and emotional growth.

Learn more about the science of developmental psychology

For Students

Developmental psychologists help us better understand how people grow, develop and adapt at different life stages. They apply this knowledge to help people overcome developmental challenges and reach their full potential.

Resources for StudentsResources to help you pursue a career in psychology
A degree in psychology can lead to a fulfilling career that makes a difference in people’s lives.

  


Pursuing a Career in Developmental PsychologyFind out what it takes to become a developmental psychologist
Developmental psychologists study changes in human development across the lifespan, including physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality and emotional growth.

For Teachers

An advanced degree in psychology is the foundation of many interesting career paths within the discipline. In addition, an understanding of the science of psychology — for example, by earning a bachelor’s degree in the subject — can help students in their careers and their lives.

Resources for TeachersExplore classroom resources
Understanding the science of psychology can help students in their careers and their lives. Psychological science is the foundation of many interesting career paths.
  


Psychology Can Take You Great PlacesLearn what it takes to pursue a career in psychology
You don’t have to look far to see the impact that psychologists make. They contribute in almost every profession, from health care and law enforcement to sport performance and space exploration.

For School Counselors

Developmental psychologists work with people of all ages to understand and support their growth. Students interested in studying the science behind growth and development at different life stages and conducting research designed to help people overcome developmental challenges may be interested in a career in developmental psychology.

Resources for CounselorsResources to help your students pursue a career in psychology
A degree in psychology can lead to a fulfilling career that makes a difference in people’s lives.

  


Pursuing a Career in Developmental PsychologyFind out what it takes to become a developmental psychologist
Developmental psychologists study changes in human development across the lifespan, including physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality and emotional growth.