Babies’ spontaneous movements have implications for their development

Babies don’t stop moving from birth. Even when they’re in the womb, they make themselves known with the flexing of their arms and their subtle kicks that apparently don’t have a specific goal. These spasms are often called “spontaneous movements”. Science has long known that they play an important role in people’s sensorimotor development, but no research has shown what their role was.

Understanding these random movements and their involvement in early human development could help identify early indicators of certain developmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy.

Now, a new study from the University of Tokyo has shown that these movements probably help the baby, motivated by his curiosity, to discover the sensations they produce and thus learn to move correctly.

Babies learn to move their bodies from their own movements. It seems they are looking for a match between the motor signals the brain sends and the sensory responses these movements generate.

Hoshinori Kanazawa, lead author of the study

“We observed that babies learn to move their bodies from their own movements, even if they apparently do not have a purpose. It seems that the newborn seeks a combination between the motor signals that his brain sends and the sensory responses that these movements generate,” said Hoshinori Kanazawa, lead author of the study, to SINC.

a clear purpose

In this way, the results show that these spasms have a clear purpose and are fundamental in the development of people’s sensorimotor system, that is, our ability to regulate muscles, movement and coordination.

“We always thought that the development of the sensorimotor system depended on repeated interactions, which means that the more you repeat the same action, the more likely you are to learn and remember it. However, our findings show that babies develop their own sensorimotor system motivated by their curiosity”, explains the scientist.

To reach these conclusions, the researchers observed the movements of neonates and infants younger than three months and combined them with a musculoskeletal computer model, with the objective of analyzing the communication between the muscles and the sensitivity of the body. O studying It is published in the journal PNAS.

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Markers for the motion capture camera were gently applied to the baby’s limbs, head and belly, allowing the team to capture the full range of motion. /Kanazawa et al.

“Although this study is still preliminary, the results suggest that many behaviors of babies and children have a purpose in their development, although we do not perceive it with the naked eye. It could help to change the view we have of the behavior of babies”, points out Kanazawa.

Biomarkers for Developmental Disorders

According to the scientist, “some previous studies have investigated the kinematic properties of babies’ movement -that is, the muscle actions that allow the mobility of joints and other parts of the body- and have shown that certain movements can be predictive biomarkers of developmental disorders, particularly cerebral palsy.

Certain movements may be predictive biomarkers of developmental disorders, particularly cerebral palsy.

However, this research looks at muscle activity and the sensations it produces in the body. That’s why the author suggests that “these results could be potentially valuable in clinical research with the aim of using them as prognostic biomarkers”, that is, to help predict the progress of a disease.

This analysis was done with 12 newborns and 10 babies under three months old, so now the researchers will have to continue to explore the results in a larger sample and for a longer time “to see if the spasms influence later development and in the age adult ”, they conclude.


Kanazawa, H. et al. “Open movements structure sensorimotor information in early human development”. PNAS (2022).

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