Talk | Jonathan Delafield-Butt

03.11.2016 17:00 - 18:30

"Prospective Motor Agency: From primary intentions in utero to embodied narratives of meaning, and their disruption in autism"

Jonathan Delafield-Butt

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

"Prospective Motor Agency: From primary intentions in utero to embodied narratives of meaning, and their disruption in autism"

About the talk

In this talk I will examine the embodied, affective nature of human learning and development before it achieves linguistic expression, as a route to basic principles of agency in movement in social awareness, affective contact, and learning. Conscious human experience is first evident in purposeful movements of the body made in basic actions in utero.1 Even at this early stage, these actions require an anticipation of their future effect, and generate basic satisfaction on their successful completion. This constitutes the first form of knowledge, knowing ahead of time the effects of a particular self-motivated, self-generated action, and its likely affective value. Made in intersubjective engagement after birth, these basic actions serve to co-create embodied narratives, or shared projects of meaning-making with common purpose. These are first and foremost embodied, then become linguistic.2,3 In autism, new evidence demonstrates the subsecond timing and integration of basic motor agency is disrupted, thwarting consequent social engagement and learning.4,5 This emerging motor perspective in autism presents a strong embodied view of development, illustrates its importance when disrupted, and gives impetus for novel therapeutic routes that include embodied, motor rehabilitative strategies.


  • Delafield-Butt, J. T., & Gangopadhyay, N. (2013). Sensorimotor intentionality: The origins of intentionality in prospective agent action. Developmental Review, 33(4), 399-425. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2013.09.001
  • Delafield-Butt, J. T., & Trevarthen, C. (2015). The ontogenesis of narrative: From moving to meaning. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01157
  • Delafield-Butt, J., & Adie, J. (2016). The embodied narrative nature of learning. Mind Brain & Education, 10(2), 14. doi:10.1111/mbe.12120
  • Trevarthen, C. & Delafield-Butt, J. T. Autism as a developmental disorder in intentional movement and affective engagement. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 7, 49, doi:10.3389/fnint.2013.00049 (2013).
  • Anzulewicz, A., Sobota, K. & Delafield-Butt, J. T. Toward the autism motor signature: Gesture patterns during smart tablet gameplay identify children with autism. Sci. Rep. 6, doi:10.1038/srep31107 (2016).

About the speaker

Jonathan Delafield-Butt is Senior Lecturer in Child Development at the University of Strathclyde. His work examines the origins of human experience and the embodied foundations of development, especially in autism. He began research with a Ph.D. in Developmental Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, then extended to Developmental Psychology in work on the embodied nature of infant learning and development at the Universities of Edinburgh and Copenhagen. He has held scholarships at Harvard University and at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Edinburgh for bridgework between science and philosophy, and has trained pre-clinically in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy at the Scottish Institute for Human Relations. His research combines disciplinary perspectives (neuroscience, psychology, movement science) to present new evidence on the aetiology of autism spectrum disorder, and novel routes to therapeutic intervention.


Lecture Hall G (Psychologicum)

Faculty of Psychology
University of Vienna
Liebiggasse 5, left wing, 2rd floor
A-1010 Wien