Visual and tactile information about object-curvature control fingertip forces and grasp kinematics in human dexterous manipulation

J Neurophysiol. 2000 Dec;84(6):2984-97. doi: 10.1152/jn.2000.84.6.2984.


Most objects that we manipulate have curved surfaces. We have analyzed how subjects during a prototypical manipulatory task use visual and tactile sensory information for adapting fingertip actions to changes in object curvature. Subjects grasped an elongated object at one end using a precision grip and lifted it while instructed to keep it level. The principal load of the grasp was tangential torque due to the location of the center of mass of the object in relation to the horizontal grip axis joining the centers of the opposing grasp surfaces. The curvature strongly influenced the grip forces required to prevent rotational slips. Likewise the curvature influenced the rotational yield of the grasp that developed under the tangential torque load due to the viscoelastic properties of the fingertip pulps. Subjects scaled the grip forces parametrically with object curvature for grasp stability. Moreover in a curvature-dependent manner, subjects twisted the grasp around the grip axis by a radial flexion of the wrist to keep the desired object orientation despite the rotational yield. To adapt these fingertip actions to object curvature, subjects could use both vision and tactile sensibility integrated with predictive control. During combined blindfolding and digital anesthesia, however, the motor output failed to predict the consequences of the prevailing curvature. Subjects used vision to identify the curvature for efficient feedforward retrieval of grip force requirements before executing the motor commands. Digital anesthesia caused little impairment of grip force control when subjects had vision available, but the adaptation of the twist became delayed. Visual cues about the form of the grasp surface obtained before contact was used to scale the grip force, whereas the scaling of the twist depended on visual cues related to object movement. Thus subjects apparently relied on different visuomotor mechanisms for adaptation of grip force and grasp kinematics. In contrast, blindfolded subjects used tactile cues about the prevailing curvature obtained after contact with the object for feedforward adaptation of both grip force and twist. We conclude that humans use both vision and tactile sensibility for feedforward parametric adaptation of grip forces and grasp kinematics to object curvature. Normal control of the twist action, however, requires digital afferent input, and different visuomotor mechanisms support the control of the grasp twist and the grip force. This differential use of vision may have a bearing to the two-stream model of human visual processing.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Friction
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Kinesis / physiology
  • Lifting
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Stereognosis / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Torque
  • Touch / physiology*