Ontogenesis of head stabilization in space during locomotion in children: influence of visual cues.


  • Assaiante Christine
  • Amblard B.

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The main purpose of this study was to investigate the development of the head stabilization in space strategy (HSSS) during various locomotor tasks in 3- to 8-year-old children and adults. The contribution of visual factors to the HSSS was also examined by applying peripheral visual restriction, stroboscopic visual motion cue restriction, and darkness. The kinematics of the head and trunk rotations (pitch, yaw, and roll) were analyzed by means of an optical TV-image processor (ELITE system). For each of the three angular components, an appropriate "head anchoring index" was defined in order to compare the HSSS with a head stabilization on the trunk strategy. Head-trunk correlation rates were also calculated for each angular component in order to evaluate the head-trunk stiffness. The development of head-trunk coordinations during locomotion under normal vision can be said to involve at least three main periods. The first period occurs from the age of 3 to 6 years, when the HSSS is adopted only while walking on the flat ground. While walking on narrow supports, children in this age-group rather tend to increase the head-trunk stiffness, especially at 6 years of age. The second period includes 7- to 8-year-old children. Children of this age become able to adopt the HSSS while walking on narrow supports. During this period, the HSSS is associated with a large decrease in the head-trunk correlations. Lastly, in adulthood the HSSS is commonly adopted but specifically involves the roll component associated with the lateral body oscillations while walking. Vision was found to have little influence on children's HSSS while walking, whatever their age. Moreover, darkness induces an increase in the efficiency of the HSSS in adults. This confirms that the HSSS is the most appropriate strategy available for dealing with an increase in the level of equilibrium difficulty and may reflect a "top-down" organization of the postural control while walking. These results also suggest that the HSSS may be mainly of vestibular origin and presumably serves to facilitate the visual input processing, particularly that of the motion and peripheral visual cues which are involved in the control of body equilibrium during locomotion.

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