Developmental Reflexes

Movement in primitive animals is purely by stimulus-response patterns which are called reflexes. Reflexes are the primal form of cognition where when something happens, an appropriate genetically hard-wired response is enabled. Reflexes are tuned over thousands of generations to facilitate the greatest possible success in a given environment. Success requires a stable, slowly changing, predictable environment.

As animals gained complexity their movements required more sophisticated motor control, requiring more complex reflexes, and eventually more complex motor control that enabled a range of movement options based on complex processing of sensory information. This path eventually led to our conscious control of movement. 

Our conscious control of movement is based on reflexes. We do not move our muscles, but rather activate the underlying reflexes which control motor function1. Our first task as we develop is to activate these neuromotor circuits, which begins In-Utero and continues until the age of approximately 16 months. After we are born we are not only activating these reflexes but also beginning the process of figuring out how to use them in controlled movements.

The tradition of naming reflexes after the pioneer who first described them is misleading at best. Doing so creates the impression that the described reflex acts in isolation and that it “disappears” after a certain point, Both of these impressions are wrong – the reflex is an attribute of a more complex pattern that has utility in facilitating specific movements, which we use throughout our lives.

/Reflexes afford vital assistance to our full functionality. If not, we would not invest vital resources in developing their expression. Additionally many types of dysregulation have been linked to incomplete maturation of a specific reflex function (see the Developmental Assessment), and further maturation of the identified reflex usually results in improved self-regulation.

The reflexes described below are listed by their common name, but also by the likely function this writer believes they are involved in.

1 Fine Motor Control of the hands may be an exception to this statement. However, gross motor control of the arms such as using the arms in crawling and walking is not. A discussion of the principle research on this mode of action of movement here:

(Lateral Stability) Description of reflex. Activation of reflex. Association to Mammalian Evolutionary Layer. Locomotive and Manipulative Core. Doing and Social Archetypes. Mammalian Layer Therapeutic Protocols.