Spontaneous baby movements are important for the development of a coordinated sensorimotor system

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Summary: A new study shows that babies’ spontaneous, random movements help develop their sensorimotor system.

Source: University of Tokyo

Spontaneous, random baby movements help develop their sensorimotor system, according to a new study led by the University of Tokyo.

Detailed motion capture of newborns and infants was combined with a musculoskeletal computer model to allow researchers to analyze the communication between muscles and sensations throughout the body.

The researchers found patterns of muscle interaction that developed based on the babies’ random exploratory behaviors that would later allow them to perform sequential movements as infants.

A better understanding of our sensorimotor development could help us gain insight into the origin of human movement and earlier diagnoses of developmental disorders.

From birth—and even in the womb—babies begin kicking, wiggling, and moving seemingly without purpose or external stimulation. These are called “spontaneous movements” and researchers believe they play an important role in the development of the sensorimotor system, ie the ability to control muscles, movement and coordination.

If researchers can better understand these seemingly random movements and their role in early human development, we might also be able to identify early indicators of certain developmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy.

There is currently limited knowledge of how newborns and young children learn to move. “Previous research on sensorimotor development has focused on kinematic properties, muscle activities that cause movement in a joint or body part,” said project assistant Professor Hoshinori Kanazawa of the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology.

“However, our study focused on muscle activity and sensory inputs for the whole body. By combining a musculoskeletal model and a neuroscientific method, we found that spontaneous movements that appear to have no explicit task or purpose contribute to coordinated sensorimotor development.”

First, the team recorded the joint movements of 12 healthy newborns (less than 10 days old) and 10 young infants (about three months old) using motion capture technology. They then estimated the babies’ muscle activity and sensory inputs using an infant-scale whole-body musculoskeletal computer model they created.

Finally, they used computer algorithms to analyze the spatiotemporal (both spatial and temporal) features of the interaction between the input signals and muscle activity.

“We were surprised that the infants’ movements ‘wandered’ during spontaneous movements and that they followed different sensorimotor interactions. We’ve dubbed this phenomenon ‘sensorimotor wandering,'” Kanazawa said.

This shows a baby with movements depicted
The motion capture camera markers were gently applied to the baby’s limbs, head and abdomen, allowing the team to capture the full range of motion. Credit: 2022 Kanazawa et al.

“It has been widely accepted that the development of the sensorimotor system in general depends on the occurrence of repeated sensorimotor interactions, meaning the more times you perform the same action, the more likely you are to learn and remember it.

“However, our results suggest that infants develop their own sensorimotor system based on exploratory behavior or curiosity, such that they do not just repeat the same action, but a variety of actions.” Furthermore, our results provide a conceptual link between early spontaneous movements and spontaneous neuronal activity.”

See also

This shows parents sleeping next to their baby

Previous studies in humans and animals have shown that motor behavior (movement) involves a small set of primitive muscular control patterns. These are patterns typically seen in task-specific or cyclic movements such as walking or grasping.

The results of this latest study support the theory that newborns and infants can acquire sensorimotor modules, that is, synchronized muscle activity and sensory input, through spontaneous whole-body movements without an explicit purpose or task.

The babies also showed an increase in coordinated whole-body movements and anticipatory movements through sensorimotor walking. The movements performed by the infant group showed more frequent patterns and sequential movements compared to the random movements of the newborn group.

Next, Kanazawa wants to explore how sensorimotor walking affects later development, such as: B. walking and grasping, along with more complex behaviors and higher cognitive functions.

“My original background is in infant rehabilitation. My big goal through my research is to understand the underlying mechanisms of early motor development and to find insights that help to promote the baby’s development.”

About this news from neurodevelopmental research

Author: press office
Source: University of Tokyo
Contact: Press Office – University of Tokyo
Picture: The image is used by Kanazawa et al

Original research: The results appear in PNAS

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