Innate Reflexes

The study of reflexes has not been limited to learning and memory. Developmental psychologists have studied a variety of innate reflexes that are generated by newborn infants. Sucking is a very prominent reflex that is readily observed in newborns. Also related to feeding is the rooting reflex, which can be elicited when the cheek of an infant is stroked softly. The skin stimu-

Newborns possess a grasping reflex that allows them to hold tightly to objects. (PhotoDisc)

lation causes the infant to open his or her mouth and turn toward the point of stimulation. This reflex has obvious applications in helping the infant locate food. The infant's ability to hold on to objects is, in part, attributable to the presence of the grasp reflex. When an object touches the palm of a newborn's hand, the newborn's fist will close immediately around the object, thus allowing the infant to hold the object for a short period of time. The infantile reflexes disappear within a few months after birth and are replaced by voluntary responses. Most developmental researchers believe that the infantile reflexes are temporary substitutes for the voluntary responses. Apparently, the voluntary responses are not present during the first few months of life because various parts of the infant's nervous system, including the cerebral cortex, have not matured sufficiently to support the behavior. Therefore, the disappearance of the infantile reflexes serves as an important marker of neural and behavioral development.

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