Development of human precision grip. IV. Tactile adaptation of isometric finger forces to the frictional condition

Exp Brain Res. 1995;104(2):323-30. doi: 10.1007/BF00242017.


The adaptation of the grip forces to the frictional condition between the digits and an object relies on feedforward sensorimotor mechanisms that use tactile afferent input to intermittently update a sensorimotor memory that controls the force coordination, i.e., the ratio between grip force (normal to the grip surface) and load force (tangential to the grip surface). The present study addressed the development of these mechanisms. Eighty-nine children and 15 adults lifted an instrumented object with exchangeable grip surfaces measuring the grip and load forces. Particularly in trials with high friction (sandpaper), the youngest children used a high grip force to load force ratio. Although this large safety margin against slips indicated an immature capacity to adapt to the frictional condition, higher grip forces were produced for more slippery material (silk versus sandpaper). The safety margin decreased during the first 5 years of age, in parallel with a lower variability in the grip force and a better adaptation to the current frictional condition. The youngest children (18 months) could adapt the grip force to load force ratio to the frictional condition in a series of lifts when the same surface structure was presented in blocks of trials, but failed when the surface structure was unpredictably changed between subsequent lifts. The need for repetitive presentation suggests a poor capacity to form a sensorimotor memory representation of the friction or an immature capacity to control the employed ratio from this representation. The memory effects, reflected by the influences of the frictional condition in the previous trial, gradually increased with age. Older children required a few lifts and adults only one lift to update their force coordination to a new friction. Hence, the present finding suggests that young children use excessive grip force, a strategy to avoid frictional slips, to compensate for an immature tactile control of the precision grip.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Friction
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Sensation