Adaptive Dynamics of the Leg Movement Patterns of Human Infants: II. Treadmill stepping in Infants and Adults

J Mot Behav. 1994 Dec;26(4):313-324. doi: 10.1080/00222895.1994.9941687.


Infant treadmill steps have many temporal and kinematic similarities to adult walking. Kinematic similarities can result from different patterns of underlying torque, however. In this study, we used inverse dynamics to compare the patterns and contributions of active (muscle) and passive (gravity and motion-dependent) torques in the swing phase of treadmill stepping in 7-month-old infants and adults. Results indicated that adults consistently used muscle torque to initiate and terminate swing, but that passive torques accounted for leg motion during most of the swing phase. Infants, in contrast, displayed multiple patterns of torque contributions during swing. In the most frequently occurring infant pattern, muscle torque remained flexor throughout swing and joint reversals were due to the dominant passive gravitational torque. The kinetic data suggest that the temporally and kinematically similar treadmill steps produced by adults and infants do not emanate from a unique set of neural commands to the muscles, but from a flexible interplay between multiple internal as well as external elements. These data suggest that the intrinsic dynamics of the human system provide a medium out of which, given a supportive context, stable patterns can emerge spontaneously. During development, voluntary controlled movement patterns must build on these intrinsic dynamics.