The reach-to-eat movement, transport of a hand to grasp an object that is withdrawn and placed in the mouth, is amongst the earliest developing functional movements of human infants. The present longitudinal study is the first description of the maturation of hand-rotation, hand shaping, and accuracy associated with the advance and withdrawal phases of the movement. Eight infants, aged 6-12 months, and eight adults, were video recorded as they reached for familiar objects or food items. Hand, arm, and trunk movements were assessed frame-by-frame with the Skilled Reaching Rating Scale, previously developed for the assessment of adult reaching, and supplementary kinematic analysis. Reach-to-eat maturation was characterized by three changes. First, for advance, a simple open hand transport gradually matured to a movement associated with pronation and hand shaping of the digits for precision grasping. Second, for withdrawal to the mouth, a direct withdrawal movement gradually became associated with hand supination that oriented the target object to the mouth. Third, associated with the maturation of rotational movements, inaccurate and fragmented hand transport and withdrawal movements developed into precise targeting of the hand-to-object and object-to-mouth. Across the age range, there was a decrease in bimanual reaching and an increase in right handed reaching. The results are discussed in relation to the idea that the maturation of the reach-to-eat movement involves the development of rotational and shaping movements of the hand and visual and somatosensory guidance of a preferred hand.
A fruit for thought is that home-based video monitoring of infant activity and experimental paradigms carried out through parents, can give valuable and realistic data.