Humans learn to make reaching movements in novel dynamic environments by acquiring an internal motor model of their limb dynamics. Here, the authors investigated how 4- to 11-year-old children (N = 39) and adults (N = 7) adapted to changes in arm dynamics, and they examined whether those data support the view that the human brain acquires inverse dynamics models (IDM) during development. While external damping forces were applied, the children learned to perform goal-directed forearm flexion movements. After changes in damping, all children showed kinematic aftereffects indicative of a neural controller that still attempted to compensate the no longer existing damping force. With increasing age, the number of trials toward complete adaptation decreased. When damping was present, forearm paths were most perturbed and most variable in the youngest children but were improved in the older children. The findings indicate that the neural representations of limb dynamics are less precise in children and less stable in time than those of adults. Such controller instability might be a primary cause of the high kinematic variability observed in many motor tasks during childhood. Finally, the young children were not able to update those models at the same rate as the older children, who, in turn, adapted more slowly than adults. In conclusion, the ability to adapt to unknown forces is a developmental achievement. The present results are consistent with the view that the acquisition and modification of internal models of the limb dynamics form the basis of that adaptive process.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the Deutsche ForschunFsgemeinschaft (German Science Foundation) to JK and KTK. Wii sincerely thank the children and their parents for their participat/on in this study and Steffen Beirle for his invaluable assistancti with the data reduction and analysis.
- Inverse dynamics models
- Motor adaptation
- Motor control
- Motor learning