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J Neurosci. 2008 Feb 6;28(6):1271-81. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4512-07.2008.

Multidigit movement synergies of the human hand in an unconstrained haptic exploration task.

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Department of Neuroscience, Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute and Kennedy Krieger Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA.


Although the human hand has a complex structure with many individual degrees of freedom, joint movements are correlated. Studies involving simple tasks (grasping) or skilled tasks (typing or finger spelling) have shown that a small number of combined joint motions (i.e., synergies) can account for most of the variance in observed hand postures. However, those paradigms evoked a limited set of hand postures and as such the reported correlation patterns of joint motions may be task-specific. Here, we used an unconstrained haptic exploration task to evoke a set of hand postures that is representative of most naturalistic postures during object manipulation. Principal component analysis on this set revealed that the first seven principal components capture >90% of the observed variance in hand postures. Further, we identified nine eigenvectors (or synergies) that are remarkably similar across multiple subjects and across manipulations of different sets of objects within a subject. We then determined that these synergies are used broadly by showing that they account for the changes in hand postures during other tasks. These include hand motions such as reach and grasp of objects that vary in width, curvature and angle, and skilled motions such as precision pinch. Our results demonstrate that the synergies reported here generalize across tasks, and suggest that they represent basic building blocks underlying natural human hand motions.

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