What are perceptual motor skills?

Updated July 19, 2017

Perceptual motor skills are movement related skills that are an essential aspect of human development and growth. These skills work in complement with cognitive and sensory-motor development, and are largely responsible for an individual's ability to engage in athletic activities and interact with his or her environment.

Acquisition of Perceptual Motor Skills

The acquisition of perceptual motor skills occurs in three phases--the cognitive stage, which focuses on understanding what is involved in the task; the associative stage, which focuses on practice; and the autonomous stage, which focuses on improvement of speed and accuracy.


Examples of perceptual motor skills include hand-eye coordination, body-eye coordination, auditory language skills, postural adjustment, and visual-auditory skills. Young children can practice perceptual motor skills through active play, object manipulation, drawing, blocks, and various other forms of physical activity.

Early Childhood

Most perceptual motor skills such as crawling, rolling over, jumping, reaching and walking, are developed naturally along normally expected growth timelines. However, if one or more such milestones are missed or delayed, some intervention might be required. Occasionally, children who are particularly inactive in their early years may suffer from delays in perceptual motor skills. These can be rectified through basic intervention which involve a combination of physical and sensory play.

Comparison to Cognitive Skills

Cognitive skills, which develop along side perceptual motor skills, play a role in a person's performance in academic subjects, while perceptual motor skills are required for performing athletic and physical tasks, such as playing a sport. Perceptual motor skills are more primitive, and are more narrow in the way that they are expressed, compared to cognitive skills. Furthermore, it is more difficult to verbalise a perceptual motor skill (such as, how to ride a bicycle) than a cognitive skill (such as, how to add two numbers).


Physiological damage to the basal ganglia, a grouped cluster of neurons located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, has been linked to a dysfunction in the learning of perceptual-motor skills. Many disorders associated with this dysfunction (such as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease) also involve issues with working memory and mental switching between memory tasks.

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About the Author

Based in New York City, Irina Paley has been writing education-related articles since 1999. Her articles have appeared in "AACE" and "Comparative Education." Paley received a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from Columbia University in 2002, and a Master of Arts degree in instructional technology from Teacher's College in 2005. She is currently working toward a PhD in cognitive psychology.