The role of haptic cues from rough and slippery surfaces in human postural control

Exp Brain Res. 1995;103(2):267-76. doi: 10.1007/BF00231713.


Haptic information is critically important in complex sensory-motor tasks such as manipulating objects. Its comparable importance in spatial orientation is only beginning to be recognized. We have shown that postural sway in humans is significantly reduced by lightly touching a stable surface with a fingertip at contact force levels far below those physically necessary to stabilize the body. To investigate further the functional relationship between contact forces at the hand and postural equilibrium, we had subjects stand in the tandem Romberg stance while being allowed physically supportive (force contact) and non-physically supportive (touch contact) amounts of index fingertip force on surfaces with different frictional characteristics. Mean sway amplitude (MSA) was reduced by over 50% with both touch and force contact of the fingertip, compared to standing without fingertip contact. No differences in MSA were observed when touching rough or slippery surfaces. The amplitude of EMG activity in the peroneal muscles and the timing relationships between fingertip forces, body sway and EMG activity suggested that with touch contact of the finger or with force contact on a slippery surface long-loop "reflexes" involving postural muscles were stabilizing sway. With force contact of the fingertip on a rough surface, MSA reduction was achieved primarily through physical support of the body. This pattern of results indicates that light touch contact cues from the fingertip in conjunction with proprioceptive signals about arm configuration are providing information about body sway that can be used to reduce MSA through postural muscle activation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cues*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Proprioception / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*