Using discovery learning to understand and support the emergence of selective leg control in infancy

  • We believe that to achieve optimal functional outcomes, infant sat risk for neurodevelopmental disabilities must be identified early and participate in carefully designed and targeted therapeutic programs in infancy when their neural circuitry is developing. Our research focuses on understanding typical/atypical motor learning and development to inform the early identification of infants at risk for neuro developmental disabilities and the development of novel interventions that target primary contributors to infant movement dysfunction.


    Baby picture research 1Increasing selective hip-kneecontrol of infants at high risk for cerebral palsy: a feasibilitystudy

    Infants with brain insults are at high risk for cerebral palsy(HRCP) and have reduced selective hip-knee control. We developed an in-home intervention to encourage selective hip-knee control. It uses a Microsoft KinectTM   to track an infant's leg movements and activate an overhead infant mobile based on specific kicking actions. The purpose of this study is to determine: (1) the feasibility of the in-home mobile intervention,(2) if infants at HRCP and infants with typical development learn the contingency between leg movement and mobile activation, (3) if both groups increase selective hip-knee control when activating the mobile compared to spontaneous kicking. PI: Barbara Sargent, PhD,PT, PCS





    research baby yellow wall Infants born full-termand very preterm explore to learn, but does coordinationchange?

    Infants born very preterm are at high risk for motor impairments. In a previous study, infants born full-term and preterm both learned that their leg action caused an infant mobile to move and play music, but only the infants born full-term exhibited more mature, selective hip-knee coordination when interacting with the mobile. We modified the mobile task to specifically motivate more selective hip-knee coordination by systematically changing the kicking actions that activate the mobile. The purpose of this study is to determine: (1) if infants born full-term and infants born very preterm learn that their leg actions cause the mobile to move and play music, and (2) if both groups generate more selective

    hip-knee coordination when interacting with the mobile. PI:Jeongah (Jane) Kim, MS, PT (SKR), PhD student



    Published Research

    Sargent B, Kubo M, Fetters L. Infant discovery learning and lower extremity coordination: influence of prematurity. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics. In press. 

    Sargent B, Reimann H, Kubo M, Fetters L. Quantifying learning in young infants: tracking leg actions during a discovery-learning task. Journal of Visualized Experiments. 2015;100,e52841.

    Sargent B, Schweighofer N, Kubo M, Fetters L. Infant exploratory learning: influence on leg joint coordination. PLOS ONE.2014;9(3):e91500.

    Chen Y, Fetters L, Holt K, Saltzman E. Making the mobile move:Constraining task and environment. Infant Behavior and Development. 2002;25:195-220.


    Research Support

    Funding for these projects has come from Federal Institutes(National Institutes for Health), National Foundations (Section on Pediatrics of the American Physical Therapy Association, Foundation for Physical Therapy, Education Section of the American Physical Therapy Association), and USC intramural grants (Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute, ZumbergeGrant Program, USC Mentored Career Development Program).