Peregrination: Post-Graduate Studies of Bodies in Motion

In the beginning was motion or, in this case, self-motion or peregrination as Mears termed the activity (Mears, 1978; Mears & Harlow, 1975). Peregrination is probably the earliest, simplest, and most fundamental form of play initiated by infants. Peregrination or vigorous movement of the body through climbing, jumping, rolling, etc., clearly has the potential for allowing the exploration of or attention to the moving body in space. Though, at birth, we all graduate with a degree in coordination and movement, so to speak, there is still much to learn. It is expected that such learning should be more manifest in organisms that develop in unpredictable, variable, or complex environments that present challenges to movement in that environment. Arboreal and mountainous environments would seem to particularly encourage such forms of play. Also organisms moving from one sort of environment to another, either in the course of migratory activities or in the sense of having an evolutionary history in which they are successively arboreal and terrestrial as many primate species appear to have had. Such organisms will have to be prepared to engage in a wide variety of forms of locomotion, such as walking, climbing (trees and cliffs), jumping, and even possibly swimming. There are non-human primates to be found who specialize in any one of these and humans regularly do all of them.

Mears’ ideas are based on her observations of young rhesus monkeys that seem at times to personify peregrination. Yet we would not deny that the peregrinations of human children is, if less prodigious in terms of gross motor control, quite impressive, even trying at times. Mears’ definition explicitly refers to self-initiated motion of the whole body through space. However, her reference to the existence of such self-motion play existing in newborn humans implies a remarkable perambulatory precocity. Moreover, additional examples indicate an unstated, implicit, and apparently unconscious bifurcation of use of the term peregrination. On the one hand she gives as an example of pleasurable peregrination a baby “cooing and gurgling while jiggling himself all over, his arms, his legs, and his body all in volatile vibration (Mears, 1978, p. 372). This is immediately followed by a further example reminding us that “the rocking of cradle or carriage soothes the infant long before the first authentically documented laugh at 4 months of age.” Clearly neither example meets the criteria specified by Mears for peregrination. The first example involves self-initiated activity but no motion of the whole body through space. The second example involves bodily motion through space but is not self initiated. This suggests that we may be getting two phenomena for the price of one. That is, peregrination operationally appears to cover both self-initiated activity and motion of the whole body through space. Mears discussion implies that both components may be pleasurable perhaps even, absorbing. Yet it might be helpful to separate rhythmic motion from say, a simple monotonic plunge into a river. Nonetheless, it may be worth noting in passing that many human activities are rhythmic. Running, swimming, skipping, speaking, and, to less obvious extent, writing are all rhythmic activities.

In addition to opening up a diverse set of possible motor responses, body schemas, and special understanding peregrination may form a basis for subsequent rough and tumble play (Blurton Jones, 1967; Harlow & Harlow, 1965) and approach avoidance play (Harlow & Harlow, 1965; Harlow & Some, 1971). Since rough and tumble play includes chasing, wrestling, pushing and jumping they simply reflect peregrination in a social context. However, while this behaviour may represent the pinnacle of sociality for young rhesus monkeys and may warm the cockles of a simian mother’s heart, a human parent, whether out of higher or lower standards of tolerance, appears less impressed with this behaviour in her own offspring and often brand it as anti-social. Yet, in spite of the low esteem in which rough and tumble play may be held by humankind (and it must be admitted that rhesus mothers do frequently become tense when play becomes more rough than tumble) it is clear that it is enjoyed immensely by young aficionados for whom no other for of social intercourse is entered into so affettuoso. Even solitary peregrination, however, although it appears earlier than rough and tumble play and increases more rapidly, does appear to be very much facilitated by the presence of other monkeys.

The Basic Rhythm: Consider the following quotation from Thelen (1979).
In contrast to other primates, however, play is exceedingly common in apparently normal humans during one stage of the life cycle. Normal infants raised in western cultures perform large amounts of rhythmical, highly playful behaviour, such as kicking, waving, bouncing, swaying, scratching, and twirling. These often bizarre behaviours have intrigued observers of infants for many years. Unlike other human behaviours, play appears to be performed for its own sake. The child seems absorbed in its own movements, and it is very difficult to ascribe goal or purpose to those movements. Also since much of the infant’s play is strikingly similar to movements seen in abnormal populations of humans and other primates, observers have questioned whether they are indeed normal, or, rather, deviant behaviours. (p. 699)

While this may sound like a follow-up of Mears’ work on primate peregrination, the author was not describing play at all. Rather, she was describing a set of behaviours frequently described as autisms, blindismis, or stereotypes, such as, rocking, head-banging, or hand waving or fluttering, that are frequently associated with pathological conditions and are often the result of sensory and social deprivation or neurological dysfunction. I merely substituted the italicized words play and playful (with appropriate grammatical adjustments) for the original words, stereotypy or stereotyped in Thelen’s passage to illustrate the remarkable parallel between the two concepts. Not only are the two sets of activities very similar but also they present some of the same challenges to a functionalist analysis. Interestingly Thelen’s point was to argue that these repetitive stereotypies were not only to be found under pathological conditions but could be identified as part of the normal repertoire of the infant.

Earlier Wolff (1968), reporting on some observations of his colleague Imamura, suggested that the “function of stereotypy may change from a goal, to become a means of social communication or a method of exploring the physical properties of objects” (p. 477). Thus the peregrination of Mears and the stereotypes of Thelen may serve as a preparation, not for some adult activity, but for some further development of play. In the process of changing function the locus of control may also change from one of internal regulation of vestibular stimulation to external stimulation of input from objects and persons. Pursuing this line of argument Wolff noted that body rocking represents a transitional means of locomotion (as did Gesell, 1939; McGraw, 1941, and Louvie, 1949). Thus, Mears’ ambiguous rhythmic activity may become full peregrination after all. Wolf further noted that while rocking might presage crawling it might remain as a “fixed, monotonous pattern” in children with Down’s syndrome even after they have learned to crawl.

Wolff sees rhythmic stereotypes as basic to the development of speech and skilled acts involving rhythms. He bases his speculations on Lashley’s (1951) postulated “generalized schemata of action which determine the sequence of specific acts.” Such schemata were thought to be inherent properties of the CNS and quite separate from the acts they organize. Wolff argues that rhythmic stereotypes are characteristic of immature, undifferentiated organisms and that persisting stereotypes indicate a “lack of developmental differentiation.” Such a condition may arise because of organic pathologies or social stresses that may retard, distort, or reverse development. Older individuals and sometimes younger individuals suffering from certain pathologies may resume stereotyped movements. This suggests that endogenous oscillators continue to be operative even in the absence of overt simple stereotypes. They are only, perhaps temporarily decoupled by our continuing engagement with the constraints of the physical and social world. Wolff argues further that rhythmic stereotypes are most likely when there is little variation in environmental input or when attentiveness renders the individual insensitive to such variation. Wolff concludes

Since variable stimulation tends to interrupt the inherent rhythmical activity of the central nervous system; since lesions of the nervous system may modify or reinstate motor stereotypes; and since “spontaneous activity” of the central nervous system is the most likely source of biological clocks in the frequency range I have considered (approximately one or two Herz), it is reasonable to assume that the motor patterns I have described here derive their temporal organization from the central nervous system oscillators (p. 479).

Wolff rejects the hypothesis that the overt expression of the endogenous oscillators is simply suppressed by “more flexible regulations and groupings of behaviour.” An alternate hypothesis he offers involves the interactions among oscillators resulting in sequential patterns in which simple rhythms are not easily discernible. Thus, oscillators may become phase-locked during which some rhythms may entrain others (magnet effect) or, more interestingly may become mutually entrained. Wolff suggests as examples, the endogenous phase relations in infants among sucking, swallowing, and breathing; sucking and breathing; and sucking and eyelid closure. Other examples, most of which have become available since Wolff’s writing would include the exogenous entrainment of infant activity by adult speech, and by infant games such as peek-a-boo (Bruner) or turn-taking games (Ross and Goldman). Perhaps one of the first zones of proximal development opened up by social tutors is in the entrainment of endogenous rhythms. This suggests two alternative zones of development, and endogenously and an exogenously produced zone. Why would the infant be provided with these two?

Two Sources of Vestibular Stimulation: As Thelen has illustrated, human infants perform, to some degree, stereotyped movements involving whole body swaying, rocking of the torso and/or head, or swinging, banging, rubbing or scratching with the limbs. Very young children engage in these activities to a remarkable extent. Rhythmical stereotypes may occupy as much as 40% of the normal infant’s wakeful periods and virtually all infants engage in some degree of stereotyped movement. This increases dramatically in the first six months of life and begins to decline thereafter. While these stereotypes have been linked in the past to pathological behaviour we have noted the similarities of stereotypes and play. In particular, we noted that Thelen characterized stereotypes as being difficult to ascribe goals and as being engaged in for their own sake. In addition, she notes that infants become “completely absorbed” in the activity. High levels of rhythmic stereotypes have frequently been traced back to some deficiency in adult-infant interaction. Thelen found that the amount of stereotypy in infants was negatively correlated with the amount of time the infant was carried, rocked, jiggled, or bounced by the caregiver. Thelen characterized these forms of stimulation, collectively as forms of vestibular stimulation. Although, other forms of stimulation, such as, tactile stimulation, auditory stimulation, and other forms of contact with the infant were also found to be negatively correlated with stereotypes, this was depend upon the correlation of these latter forms of stimulation with vestibular stimulation. That is, caregivers who provided high levels of vestibular stimulation also provided high levels of other forms of stimulation. Subsequent analyses suggested that it was specifically the vestibular stimulation that was most directly and inversely related to the extent of stereotypy in infants. Moreover, the greatest differences in vestibular stimulation between children high and low in stereotypes occurred in the first 14 weeks of life whereas the greatest differences between these groups in the stereotypes themselves occurred at six months.[1] Thus it appears that early vestibular stimulation may lead to later reduction in stereotypes.

A possible developmental model based on the foregoing might go as follows. Given that the development of sensory components of the nervous system appears to require some minimal level of sensory input and that some level above this is optimal and given that the vestibular system seems to be one of the earliest developing systems then early vestibular stimulation may be a necessary prerequisite for neurological development. Deficiencies in exogenously induced vestibular stimulation may be compensated for by autochthonous or self-generated vestibular stimulation monitored by a negative feedback. Within relatively broad limits such a system would assure a finely tuned neurological growth rate. This argument is likely especially important for primate, and especially human, development. If it is the case that primate development is more open-ended it will necessarily by more dependent upon environmental events. However, such a system might potentially maneuver the species into a rather precarious situation if conditions changed dramatically precluding the availability of the environmental “scaffolding” of a zone of proximal development. The evidence of human culture certainly suggests a history of crises during which the social and physical environment may have been considerably less that optimally supportive (Harris). Such conditions might lead to a “default” option in development in which endogenous process would make the organism less than completely dependent on external guidance.