Coordination of fingertip forces during human manipulation can emerge from independent neural networks controlling each engaged digit

Exp Brain Res. 1997 Oct;117(1):67-79. doi: 10.1007/s002210050200.


We investigated the coordination of fingertip forces in subjects who lifted an object (i) using the index finger and thumb of their right hand, (ii) using their left and right index fingers, and (iii) cooperatively with another subject using the right index finger. The forces applied normal and tangential to the two parallel grip surfaces of the test object and the vertical movement of the object were recorded. The friction between the object and the digits was varied independently at each surface between blocks of trials by changing the materials covering the grip surfaces. The object's weight and surface materials were held constant across consecutive trials. The performance was remarkably similar whether the task was shared by two subjects or carried out unimanually or bimanually by a single subject. The local friction was the main factor determining the normal:tangential force ratio employed at each digit-object interface. Irrespective of grasp configuration, the subjects adapted the force ratios to the local frictional conditions such that they maintained adequate safety margins against slips at each of the engaged digits during the various phases of the lifting task. Importantly, the observed force adjustments were not obligatory mechanical consequences of the task. In all three grasp configurations an incidental slip at one of the digits elicited a normal force increase at both engaged digits such that the normal:tangential force ratio was restored at the non-slipping digit and increased at the slipping digit. The initial development of the fingertip forces prior to object lift-off revealed that the subjects employed digit-specific anticipatory mechanisms using weight and frictional experiences in the previous trial. Because grasp stability was accomplished in a similar manner whether the task was carried out by one subject or cooperatively by two subjects, it was concluded that anticipatory adjustments of the fingertip forces can emerge from the action of anatomically independent neural networks controlling each engaged digit. In contrast, important aspects of the temporal coordination of the digits was organized by a "higher level" sensory-based control that influenced both digits. In lifts by single subjects this control was mast probably based on tactile and visual input and on communication between neural control mechanisms associated with each digit. In the two-subject grasp configuration this synchronization information was based on auditory and visual cues.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fingers / innervation
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Friction
  • Hand Strength / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Surface Properties
  • Thumb / physiology
  • Weight Perception / physiology