Roles of glabrous skin receptors and sensorimotor memory in automatic control of precision grip when lifting rougher or more slippery objects

Exp Brain Res. 1984;56(3):550-64. doi: 10.1007/BF00237997.


To be successful, precision manipulation of small objects requires a refined coordination of forces excerted on the object by the tips of the fingers and thumb. The present paper deals quantitatively with the regulation of the coordination between the grip force and the vertical lifting force, denoted as the load force, while small objects were lifted, positioned in space and replaced by human subjects using the pinch grip. It was shown that the grip force changed in parallel with the load force generated by the subject to overcome various forces counteracting the intended manipulation. The balance between the two forces was adapted to the friction between the skin and the object providing a relatively small safety margin to prevent slips, i.e. the more slippery the object the higher the grip force at any given load force. Experiments with local anaesthesia indicated that this adaptation was dependent on cutaneous afferent input. Afferent information related to the frictional condition could influence the force coordination already about 0.1 s after the object was initially gripped, i.e. approximately at the time the grip and load forces began to increase in parallel. Further, "secondary", adjustments of the force balance could occur later in response to small short-lasting slips, revealed as vibrations in the object. The new force balance following slips was maintained, indicating that the relationship between the two forces was set on the basis of a memory trace. Its updating was most likely accounted for by tactile afferent information entering intermittently at inappropriate force coordination, e.g. as during slips. The latencies between the onset of such slips and the appearance of the adjustments (0.06-0.08 s) clearly indicated that the underlying neural mechanisms operated highly automatically.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Skin / innervation*
  • Touch / physiology*