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Getting a grip: Different actions and visual guidance of the thumb and finger in precision grasping

Melmoth, D. R. & Grant, S. (2012). Getting a grip: Different actions and visual guidance of the thumb and finger in precision grasping. Experimental Brain Research, 222(3), pp. 265-276. doi: 10.1007/s00221-012-3214-5


We manipulated the visual information available for grasping to examine what is visually guided when subjects get a precision grip on a common class of object (upright cylinders). In Experiment 1, objects (2 sizes) were placed at different eccentricities to vary the relative proximity to the participant’s (n = 6) body of their thumb and finger contact positions in the final grip orientations, with vision available throughout or only for movement programming. Thumb trajectories were straighter and less variable than finger paths, and the thumb normally made initial contact with the objects at a relatively invariant landing site, but consistent thumb first-contacts were disrupted without visual guidance. Finger deviations were more affected by the object’s properties and increased when vision was unavailable after movement onset. In Experiment 2, participants (n = 12) grasped ‘glow-in-the-dark’ objects wearing different luminous gloves in which the whole hand was visible or the thumb or the index finger was selectively occluded. Grip closure times were prolonged and thumb first-contacts disrupted when subjects could not see their thumb, whereas occluding the finger resulted in wider grips at contact because this digit remained distant from the object. Results were together consistent with visual feedback guiding the thumb in the period just prior to contacting the object, with the finger more involved in opening the grip and avoiding collision with the opposite contact surface. As people can overtly fixate only one object contact point at a time, we suggest that selecting one digit for online guidance represents an optimal strategy for initial grip placement. Other grasping tasks, in which the finger appears to be used for this purpose, are discussed.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: R Medicine > RE Ophthalmology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Optometry & Visual Sciences
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