Because manipulative exploration of objects may be important to the infant's perception and conceptualization of objects, this study compared full-term infants with preterm infants who are considered to be at risk for cognitive deficits. 30 preterms at 9 months, with age corrected for prematurity, and 20 9-month-old full-terms were videotaped while they explored novel objects; the videotapes were scored for behaviors such as looking, handling, mouthing, turning the object around, fingering, transferring from hand to hand, and banging. There were no differences between the preterms and the full-terms. A "low-risk" subgroup and a "high-risk" subgroup of preterms were then compared with each other as well as to the full-terms. The low-risk subgroup was essentially the same as the full-terms. The high-risk preterms, however, fingered, rotated, and transferred the objects less than either the full-terms or the low-risk preterms. There was a relationship between manipulative exploration at 9 months and later cognitive functioning, suggesting that lower levels of manipulation may be one way in which cognitive deficits originate or are maintained.