Postural control during reaching in young infants: A dynamic systems approach

Esther Thelen, John P. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Citations (Scopus)


We conceptualize the coordinated development of posture and reaching within Schoner's (Ecological Psychology, 7:291-314, 1995) dynamic model of coupled levels of control: load, timing, and goal. In particular, the goat of postural stability must be maintained during a reach. Using longitudinal data from four infants followed from 3 weeks to 1 year, we show that coordination of the head with upper and lower ann activity is critical for successful reaching. First, infants acquire stable head control several weeks before reaching onset. Furthermore, reaching onset is characterized by a reorganization of muscle patterns to include more trapezius and deltoid activity, serving to stabilize the head and shoulder and provide a stable base from which to reach. We argue that initially, the system is working on postural stability and reaching as goals. Infants secondarily select appropriate muscle patterns to achieve those goals depending, in part, on their individual body sizes, body proportions and energy levels. Motor development proceeds as a continual dialogue between the nervous system, body, and environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-514
Number of pages8
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1998

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