Solving Bernstein's problem: a proposal for the development of coordinated movement by selection

Child Dev. 1993 Aug;64(4):960-81.


In recent years, many established concepts in the theory of human motor development have undergone profound change, and our knowledge has increased greatly. Nevertheless, some outstanding problems remain unsolved. A central problem concerns the redundancy of effective movements, first pointed out by N. A. Bernstein. The human motor system is mechanically complex and can make use of a large number of degrees of freedom. The controlled operation of such a system requires a reduction of mechanical redundancy, effectively by reducing the number of degrees of freedom. More recent work has shown that this problem is hard to solve explicitly by computing solutions to the equations of motion of the system. Equally challenging to traditional computational approaches is the fact the motor systems show remarkable adaptability and flexibility in the presence of changing biomechanical properties of motor organs during development and when faced with different environmental conditions or tasks. Solutions to these problems would have a large impact on a variety of issues in child development. In this article, we stress the importance of the somatic selection of neuronal groups in maps for the progressive transformation of a primary movement repertoire into a set of motor synergies and adaptive action patterns. We present results from computer simulations of a simple motor system that works according to such selectional principles. This approach suggests a provisional solution to Bernstein's problem and provides new parameters to guide experimental approaches to the development of sensorimotor coordination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebellum / growth & development
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Joints / innervation
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motor Cortex / growth & development
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Muscles / innervation
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Sensation / physiology