Torque-planning errors affect the perception of object properties and sensorimotor memories during object manipulation in uncertain grasp situations

J Neurophysiol. 2019 Apr 1;121(4):1289-1299. doi: 10.1152/jn.00710.2018. Epub 2019 Feb 13.


Predicting instead of only reacting to the properties of objects we grasp is crucial to dexterous object manipulation. Although we normally plan our grasps according to well-learned associations, we rely on implicit sensorimotor memories when we learn to interact with novel or ambiguous objects. However, little is known about the influence of sensorimotor predictions on subsequent perception and action. Here, young and elderly subjects repeatedly lifted an object in which the center of mass (CoM) was randomly varied between trials straight upward with the aim of preventing object tilts. After each lift, subjects indicated the location of the perceived CoM and reported how heavy the object felt. Surprisingly, we found that sensorimotor torque memories eventually causing initial lifting errors had substantial effects on the perception of torques, weight, and the torque planning for the next lift. Whereas subjects tended to partly retain their previous erroneous sensorimotor memories (instead of solely relying on the previously encountered torque for the upcoming motor plan), they perceived encountered torques to be stronger when they erroneously predicted them. Additionally, we found that torque prediction errors, as well as the actual torques, made the object feel heavier. By contrast, perception did not influence upcoming motor control. There were no major differences observed between the age groups. The sensorimotor impact on torque perception can be explained by internal feedforward prediction highlighting task-relevant errors, while the partial retention and adaptation of sensorimotor torque memories is reconciled with the trial-to-trial learning rule for motor adaptation. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The current study is the first to demonstrate in an object manipulation task in uncertainty that errors in the sensorimotor prediction of torques influence the perception of both torques and weight, whereas sensorimotor torque memories are partly retained and partly adapted to planning errors. Our results provide novel insights into the predictive mechanisms underpinning the common everyday task of object manipulation and further support theories about the predictive modulation of perception established in other neuroscientific disciplines.

Keywords: grasping; motor error; object manipulation; sensorimotor prediction; torque perception; weight perception.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hand Strength*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Torque
  • Uncertainty
  • Weight Perception*