Objective: Earlier studies suggest that grip force adjustments evoked by mechanical perturbations result more from cutaneous signals from the fingertips, than from afferent signals from the supporting limb. Generally an increase in tangential load at the fingertips induces an increase in grip force, whereas a decrease in load induces the opposite reaction. Some data suggest that prior knowledge and experience influences the magnitude of grip force adjustments.
Methods: This study examines the relative contribution of digital and arm afferent signals in the context of brisk involuntary upward flexions obtained either by unloading the arm (ARM) or the held object (OBJECT). Following the perturbation, the tangential load at the fingertips increased in ARM, but decreased in OBJECT. A subsidiary goal was to compare the performance of naive subjects with the performance of trained and informed subjects.
Results: When the perturbation was completely unexpected, grip force increased sharply after OBJECT and ARM unloading. By contrast, when subjects had prior knowledge and experience with the upcoming perturbation, grip responses were clearly differentiated; grip force increased after ARM, but decreased after OBJECT.
Conclusions: These results challenge the view that cutaneous signals of the fingertips are the driving signals of grip force responses. Instead, afferent signals from the flexed arm would account well for the lack of difference between grip force responses in ARM and OBJECT under unpredictable conditions. These data provide clear evidence that prior knowledge and experience influences reactive grip force control, since subjects became able to repress unnecessary grip force modulation in OBJECT.
Significance: These data have implications for understanding the initiation and the modulation of grip force adjustments.