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Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(14):1912-8.

Independent digit movements and precision grip patterns in 1-5-month-old human infants: hand-babbling, including vacuous then self-directed hand and digit movements, precedes targeted reaching.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Dr., T1K 3M4, Lethbridge, Alta., Canada.


Previous work has described human reflexive grasp patterns in early infancy and visually guided reaching and grasping in late infancy. There has been no examination of hand movements in the intervening period. This was the purpose of the present study. We video recorded the spontaneous hand and digit movements made by alert infants over their first 5 months of age. Over this period, spontaneous hand and digit movements developed from fists to almost continuous, vacuous movements and then to self-directed grasping movements. Amongst the many hand and digit movements observed, four grasping patterns emerged during this period: fists, pre-precision grips associated with numerous digit postures, precision grips including the pincer grasp, and self-directed grasps. The finding that a wide range of independent digit movements and grasp patterns are displayed spontaneously by infants within their first 5 months of age is discussed in relation to the development of the motor system, including the suggestion that direct connections of the pyramidal tract are functional relatively early in infancy. It is also suggested that hand babbling, consisting of first vacuous and then self-directed movements, is preparatory to targeted reaching.

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