Unique characteristics of motor adaptation during walking in young children

Kristin E. Musselman, Susan K. Patrick, Erin V.L. Vasudevan, Amy J. Bastian, Jaynie F. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Children show precocious ability in the learning of languages; is this the case with motor learning? We used split-belt walking to probe motor adaptation (a form of motor learning) in children. Data from 27 children (ages 8-36 mo) were compared with those from 10 adults. Children walked with the treadmill belts at the same speed (tied belt), followed by walking with the belts moving at different speeds (split belt) for 8-10 min, followed again by tied-belt walking (postsplit). Initial asymmetries in temporal coordination (i.e., double support time) induced by split-belt walking were slowly reduced, with most children showing an aftereffect (i.e., asymmetry in the opposite direction to the initial) in the early postsplit period, indicative of learning. In contrast, asymmetries in spatial coordination (i.e., center of oscillation) persisted during split-belt walking and no aftereffect was seen. Step length, a measure of both spatial and temporal coordination, showed intermediate effects. The time course of learning in double support and step length was slower in children than in adults. Moreover, there was a significant negative correlation between the size of the initial asymmetry during early split-belt walking (called error) and the aftereffect for step length. Hence, children may have more difficulty learning when the errors are large. The findings further suggest that the mechanisms controlling temporal and spatial adaptation are different and mature at different times.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2195-2203
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Human
  • Locomotion
  • Motor learning
  • Split-belt locomotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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