Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex. 1. A gross motor reflex which provides neural programming for basic postures of the torso and limbs (e.g., incrawling and reaching). 2. The anatomical "fencing posture," produced by turning an infant's head to one side (e.g., leftward), showing a. arm extension and upward palm-rotation of the "face" or "jaw hand" (i.e., baby's right hand in this case), and b. arm flexion and palm pronation of the "head" or "skull hand" (i.e., baby's left; Peiper 1963:156). 3. Reflexive in infancy, fragments of ATNR emerge as nonverbal signs in stressful, emotional, or physically demanding situations, and in sleep.
Usage: ATNR provides the basic wiring for one of our most telltale mood signs, the hand-behind-head. ATNR's reflexive, brain-stem circuitry makes this unconscious gesture a trustworthy indication of disagreement, uncertainty, frustration, and anger.
Art. Michelangelo's The Three Labours of Hercules (c. 1530) and Rodin's The Age of Bronze (1875-76) are classic examples of how artists may depict strong emotion in tense limb postures released by ATNR. One arm stretched fully forward, e.g., with the other flexed and curled behind the head, shows feelings powerful enough to have triggered the reflexive fencing posture.
RESEARCH REPORT: In the ATNR position, an infant gorilla's face hand clearly shows the palm-up position (Baumgartel 1976:69).
Photo credit: unknown