Control of forces applied by individual fingers engaged in restraint of an active object

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Jul;78(1):117-28. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.78.1.117.


We investigated the coordination of fingertip forces in subjects who used the tips of two fingers to restrain an instrumented manipulandum with horizontally oriented grip surfaces. The grip surfaces were subjected to tangential pulling forces in the distal direction in relation to the fingers. The subjects used either the right index and middle fingers (unimanual grasp) or both index fingers (bimanual grasp) to restrain the manipulandum. To change the frictional condition at the digit-object interfaces, either both grip surfaces were covered with sandpaper or one was covered with sandpaper and the other with rayon. The forces applied normally and tangentially to the grip surfaces were measured separately at each plate along with the position of the plates. Subjects could have performed the present task successfully with many different force distributions between the digits. However, they partitioned the load in a manner that reflected the frictional condition at the local digit-object interfaces. When both digits contacted sandpaper, they typically partitioned the load symmetrically, but when one digit made contact with rayon and the other with sandpaper, the digit contacting the less slippery material (sandpaper) took up a larger part of the load. The normal forces were also influenced by the frictional condition, but they reflected the average friction at the two contact sites rather than the local friction. That is, when friction was low at one of the digit-object interfaces, only the applied normal forces increased at both digits. Thus sensory information related to the local frictional condition at the respective digit-object interfaces controlled the normal force at both digits. The normal:tangential force ratio at each digit appeared to be a controlled variable. It was adjusted independently at each digit to the minimum ratio required to prevent frictional slippage, keeping an adequate safety margin against slippage. This was accomplished by the scaling of the normal forces to the average friction and by partitioning of the load according to frictional differences between the digit-object interfaces. In conclusion, by adjusting the normal:tangential force ratios to the local frictional condition, subjects avoided excessive normal forces at the individual digit-object interfaces, and by partitioning the load according the frictional difference, subjects avoided high normal forces. Thus the local frictional condition at the separate digit-object interfaces is one factor that can strongly influence the distribution of forces across digits engaged in a manipulative act.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Friction
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Regression Analysis
  • Restraint, Physical