Anticipatory control and spatial cognition in locomotion and navigation through typical development and in cerebral palsy

Vittorio Belmonti, Giovanni Cioni, Alain Berthoz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Behavioural evidence, summarized in this narrative review, supports a developmental model of locomotor control based on increasing neural integration of spatial reference frames. Two consistent adult locomotor behaviours are head stabilization and head anticipation: the head is stabilized to gravity and leads walking direction. This cephalocaudal orienting organization aligns gaze and vestibula with a reference frame centred on the upcoming walking direction, allowing anticipatory control on body kinematics, but is not fully developed until adolescence. Walking trajectories and those of hand movements share many aspects, including power laws coupling velocity to curvature, and minimized spatial variability. In fact, the adult brain can code trajectory geometry in an allocentric reference frame, irrespective of the end effector, regulating body kinematics thereafter. Locomotor trajectory formation, like head anticipation, matures in early adolescence, indicating common neurocomputational substrates. These late-developing control mechanisms can be distinguished from biomechanical problems in children with cerebral palsy (CP). Children's performance on a novel navigation test, the Magic Carpet, indicates that typical navigation development consists of the increasing integration of egocentric and allocentric reference frames. In CP, right-brain impairment seems to reduce navigation performance due to a maladaptive left-brain sequential egocentric strategy. Spatial integration should be considered more in rehabilitation. What this paper adds: Head stabilization to gravity and head anticipation of walking direction are fully developed around 11-13 years of age In adolescence, locomotor trajectories become smooth and consistent as a result of their planning in allocentric space. The Magic Carpet is a novel navigation task, showing that school-age children do not yet integrate egocentric and allocentric reference frames The motor and the cognitive aspects of locomotion can be differently affected and dissociated in children with cerebral palsy Early right-brain lesions reduce Magic Carpet performance inducing inefficient egocentric solving strategies Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-27
Number of pages6
JournalDevelopmental Medicine and Child Neurology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Anticipatory control and spatial cognition in locomotion and navigation through typical development and in cerebral palsy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this