Children’s head movements and postural stability as a function of task

Abstract

Manual dexterity and postural control develop throughout childhood, leading to changes in the synergistic relationships between head, hand and posture. But the postural developments that support complex manual task performance (i.e. beyond pointing and grasping) have not been examined in depth. We report two experiments in which we recorded head and posture data whilst participants simultaneously performed a visuomotor task. In Experiment 1, we explored the extent to which postural stability is affected by concurrently performing a visual and manual task whilst standing (a visual vs. manual-tracking task) in four age groups: 5–6 years (n = 8), 8–9 years (n = 10), 10–11 years (n = 7) and 19–21 years (n = 9). For visual tracking, the children’s but not adult’s postural movement increased relative to baseline with a larger effect for faster moving targets. In manual tracking, we found greater postural movement in children compared to adults. These data suggest predictive postural compensation mechanisms develop during childhood to improve stability whilst performing visuomotor tasks. Experiment 2 examined the extent to which posture is influenced by manual activity in three age groups of children [5–6 years (n = 14), 7–8 years (n = 25), and 9–10 years (n = 24)] when they were seated, given that many important tasks (e.g. handwriting) are learned and performed whilst seated. We found that postural stability varied in a principled manner as a function of task demands. Children exhibited increased stability when tracing a complex shape (which required less predictive postural adjustment) and decreased stability in an aiming task (which required movements that were more likely to perturb posture). These experiments shed light on the task-dependant relationships that exist between postural control mechanisms and the development of specific types of manual control.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by an NIHR CLARHC implementation Grant (KRD/012/001/006). Please note, the views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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Correspondence to Ray Holt.

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Flatters, I., Mushtaq, F., Hill, L.J.B. et al. Children’s head movements and postural stability as a function of task. Exp Brain Res 232, 1953–1970 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-014-3886-0

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Keywords

  • Posture development
  • Motor control
  • Gaze
  • Motor development
  • Manual control
  • Seated posture