Brain reorganization as a function of walking experience in 12-month-old infants: implications for the development of manual laterality

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Hand preference in infancy is marked by many developmental shifts in hand use and arm coupling as infants reach for and manipulate objects. Research has linked these early shifts in hand use to the emergence of fundamental postural-locomotor milestones. Specifically, it was found that bimanual reaching declines when infants learn to sit; increases if infants begin to scoot in a sitting posture; declines when infants begin to crawl on hands and knees; and increases again when infants start walking upright. Why such pattern fluctuations during periods of postural-locomotor learning? One proposed hypothesis is that arm use practiced for the specific purpose of controlling posture and achieving locomotion transfers to reaching via brain functional reorganization. There has been scientific support for functional cortical reorganization and change in neural connectivity in response to motor practice in adults and animals, and as a function of crawling experience in human infants. In this research, we examined whether changes in neural connectivity also occurred as infants coupled their arms when learning to walk and whether such coupling mapped onto reaching laterality. Electroencephalogram (EEG) coherence data were collected from 43 12-month-old infants with varied levels of walking experience. EEG was recorded during quiet, attentive baseline. Walking proficiency was laboratory assessed and reaching responses were captured using small toys presented at mid-line while infants were sitting. Results revealed greater EEG coherence at homologous prefrontal/central scalp locations for the novice walkers compared to the prewalkers or more experienced walkers. In addition, reaching laterality was low in prewalkers and early walkers but high in experienced walkers. These results are consistent with the interpretation that arm coupling practiced during early walking transferred to reaching via brain functional reorganization, leading to the observed developmental changes in manual laterality.



EEG coherence, brain reorganization, human infants, manual laterality, reaching, walking