Lifting weights in neonates: developing visual control of reaching

Scand J Psychol. 1996 Dec;37(4):424-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9450.1996.tb00674.x.


To test whether newborn babies take account of external forces in moving their limbs, spontaneous arm-waving movements were measured while the baby lay supine with its head turned to one side. Free-hanging weights, attached to each wrist by strings passing over pulleys, pulled on the arms in the direction of the toes. The results showed the babies applied compensatory forces to keep the hand they faced moving in the same region. In contrast, the (invisible) contra-lateral hand was pulled down by the weights. In a second experiment, where the arms were occluded, both arms were pulled down, suggesting that sight of the arm was necessary in compensating for the weight. In a third, conclusive experiment the babies viewed the arm they were not facing on a small video-monitor and this time the babies kept the visible contra-lateral hand up despite the weights. The results challenge the general view that spontaneous arm movements of neonates are purposeless and either reflexive or due to spontaneous patterned efference to the muscles. Instead, the findings suggest that in waving their arms, neonates are developing visual control of reaching.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn / psychology*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Orientation
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Psychophysics
  • Weight Lifting / psychology*