Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 236, Issue 8, pp 2185–2207 | Cite as

Touch the table before the target: contact with an underlying surface may assist the development of precise visually controlled reach and grasp movements in human infants

  • Jenni M. KarlEmail author
  • Alexis M. Wilson
  • Marisa E. Bertoli
  • Noor S. Shubear
Research Article


Multiple motor channel theory posits that skilled hand movements arise from the coordinated activation of separable neural circuits in parietofrontal cortex, each of which produces a distinct movement and responds to different sensory inputs. Prehension, the act of reaching to grasp an object, consists of at least two movements: a reach movement that transports the hand to a target location and a grasp movement that shapes and closes the hand for target acquisition. During early development, discrete pre-reach and pre-grasp movements are refined based on proprioceptive and tactile feedback, but are gradually coordinated together into a singular hand preshaping movement under feedforward visual control. The neural and behavioural factors that enable this transition are currently unknown. In an attempt to identify such factors, the present descriptive study used frame-by-frame video analysis to examine 9-, 12-, and 15-month-old infants, along with sighted and unsighted adults, as they reached to grasp small ring-shaped pieces of cereal (Cheerios) resting on a table. Compared to sighted adults, infants and unsighted adults were more likely to make initial contact with the underlying table before they contacted the target. The way in which they did so was also similar in that they generally contacted the table with the tip of the thumb and/or pinky finger, a relatively open hand, and poor reach accuracy. Despite this, infants were similar to sighted adults in that they tended to use a pincer digit, defined as the tip of the thumb or index finger, to subsequently contact the target. Only in infants was this ability related to their having made prior contact with the underlying table. The results are discussed in relation to the idea that initial contact with an underlying table or surface may assist infants in learning to use feedforward visual control to direct their digits towards a precise visual target.


Development of reaching and grasping Infant reaching and grasping Prehension Visually guided reaching and grasping Dual visuomotor channel theory Multiple motor channel theory Peri-hand space Near-hand space Development of peripersonal space 



The authors would like to thank Kaleb Crossley, Jordan Houle, and Ashleigh White for their assistance with data coding and analysis. This research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (JMK) (Grant no. RGPIN-2017-05995).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThompson Rivers UniversityKamloopsCanada

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