Postural adjustments due to external perturbations during sitting in 1-month-old infants: evidence for the innate origin of direction specificity

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The aim of the study was to examine whether infants, at an age when they have no or little experience in sitting, can produce direction specific postural adjustments, i.e. synergies of muscle activity on the ventral side of the body during backward sway and on the dorsal side during forward sway. In addition, we addressed the question whether postural adjustments at this young age are restricted to single muscle responses or consist of a variable repertoire of muscle activation patterns including one during which all direction specific muscles participate (‘complete’ pattern). Postural adjustments due to external perturbations in a sitting position were studied in eight healthy infants aged 1 month. Multiple surface EMGs of neck, trunk and leg muscles and kinematics were recorded while the infants were exposed to horizontal forward (Fw) and backward (Bw) displacements of the surface of support. Direction specific postural adjustments, defined as adjustments during which agonist activation or antagonist inhibition preceded antagonist activation, were present in 85% of Bw and 72% of Fw translations. The direction specific adjustments showed a large variability with the repertoire of adjustments including the activation of one, two or all of the recorded direction specific muscles. The finding of direction specific adjustments at 1 month of age support the opinion that the basic level of organisation of postural adjustments has an innate origin. The finding of a variable repertoire of muscle response patterns, including the ‘complete’ pattern, refutes the idea that the development of postural adjustments results from gradual addition of appropriate muscles to the synergies.

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