Learning about gravity: segmental assessment of upright control as infants develop independent sitting

J Neurophysiol. 2012 Oct;108(8):2215-29. doi: 10.1152/jn.01193.2011. Epub 2012 Jul 25.


The question of how infants attain upright sitting is at the core of understanding the development of most functional abilities. Our simple, practical method of securing the hips and different trunk segments while evaluating the infant's ability to vertically align and stabilize the trunk in space contributes a useful method and new insights into the development of upright control. Previous studies have considered the trunk to develop as a single segment. The goal of the present study was to examine how postural control changes across multiple trunk segments during typical development (TD) of sitting balance. For this purpose, electromyography (EMG) and kinematic data were collected at four levels of trunk support (axillae, midribs, waist, hips), in a longitudinal study of eight TD infants (3-9 mo of age). We found that developmental changes in stability were specific to the region of the trunk being investigated, changes in antagonistic muscle activity differed for the anterior-posterior versus the medial-lateral axis, and the relationship between muscle activation and movement changed from erratic attempts to gain upright position to anticipatory graded responses as infants developed upright control through a four-stage behavioral process. This information can be used by researchers to further refine hypotheses regarding this developmental process and by clinicians who wish to develop and test more specific treatment programs for children with postural dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Gravitation
  • Gravity Sensing / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Posture*