In goal-oriented locomotion, healthy adults generate highly stereotyped trajectories and a consistent anticipatory head orienting behaviour, both evidence of top-down, open-loop control. The aim of this study is to describe the typical development of anticipatory orienting strategies and trajectory formation. Our hypothesis is that full-blown anticipatory control requires advanced navigational skills. Twenty-six healthy subjects (14 children: 4-11 years; 6 adolescents: 13-17 years; 6 adults) were asked to walk freely towards one of the three visual targets, in a randomised order. Movement was captured via an optoelectronic system, with 15 body markers. The whole-body displacement, yaw orientation of head, trunk and pelvis, heading direction and foot placements were extracted. Head-heading anticipation, trajectory curvature, indexes of variability of trajectories, foot placements and kinematic profiles were studied. The mean head-heading anticipation time and trajectory curvature did not significantly differ among age groups. In children, however, head anticipation was more often lacking (χ 2 = 9.55, p <0.01), and there were significant intra- and inter-subject variations. Trajectory curvature was often very high in children, while it became consistently lower in adolescence (χ 2 = 78.59, p <10-17). The indexes of spatial and kinematic variability all followed a decreasing developmental trend (R 2 > 0.5, p <0.0001). In conclusion, children under 11 do not perform curvilinear locomotor trajectories as adolescents and adults do. Anticipatory head orientation and trajectory formation develop in late childhood, well after gait maturation. Navigational skills, such as path planning and shifting from ego- to allocentric spatial reference frames, are proposed as necessary requisites for mature locomotor control.
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