Japanese scientists solve the mystery of why babies kick in the womb

Japanese scientists solve the mystery of why babies kick in the womb


A team of scientists from the University of Tokyo has finally solved the mystery of why babies kick in the womb.

Using motion capture technology and a computer model of the musculoskeletal system, the team analyzed muscle communication in the bodies of newborns and infants. They then identified patterns of muscle interaction based on the infants’ random body movements.

The team discovered that neurons within each muscle produce muscle contractions that activate “sensors.”

These random movements help develop the sensorimotor system, which includes the sense organs, the nervous system, and motor controls. The team’s model shows that these movements help infants learn to control their bodies while still in the womb.

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The discovery could lead to new methods for detecting and treating neurodegenerative disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

Project assistant professor Hoshinori Kanazawa of the School of Information Science and Technology explained that past research on sensorimotor development has mostly focused on “kinematic properties, muscle activities that cause movement in a joint or part of the body.”

However, our research focused on muscle activity and sensory inputs to the whole body. By combining the musculoskeletal model and the neuroscientific method, we discovered that spontaneous movements, which apparently have no explicit task or purpose, contribute to coordinated sensorimotor development.

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Recordings of joint movements of 12 newborns younger than 10 days and 10 infants younger than 3 months contributed to these findings.

The scientists were surprised to see that the infants’ movements went astray during spontaneous movement because they discovered sensorimotor interactions. The team called this phenomenon “sensorimotor wandering.”

It is commonly assumed that the development of the sensorimotor system generally depends on the occurrence of repeated sensorimotor interactions, meaning that the more you do the same action, the more likely you are to learn and remember it. However, our results imply that infants develop their own sensorimotor system based on exploratory behavior or curiosity, so that they do not just repeat the same action, but a series of actions. In addition, our findings provide a conceptual link between early spontaneous movements and spontaneous neuronal activity.

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During the study, the newborns showed more random movements compared to the predictable, patterned movements of the infant group.

Next, Kanazawa plans to investigate how “sensorimotor wandering” affects walking and reaching, as well as the more complex development of behavior and cognitive function.

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