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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44291. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044291. Epub 2012 Sep 12.

Active collisions in altered gravity reveal eye-hand coordination strategies.

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  • 1Unité de Formation et de Recherche en Sciences et Techniques des Activités Physiques et Sportives, Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, France.


Most object manipulation tasks involve a series of actions demarcated by mechanical contact events, and gaze is usually directed to the locations of these events as the task unfolds. Typically, gaze foveates the target 200 ms in advance of the contact. This strategy improves manual accuracy through visual feedback and the use of gaze-related signals to guide the hand/object. Many studies have investigated eye-hand coordination in experimental and natural tasks; most of them highlighted a strong link between eye movements and hand or object kinematics. In this experiment, we analyzed gaze strategies in a collision task but in a very challenging dynamical context. Participants performed collisions while they were exposed to alternating episodes of microgravity, hypergravity and normal gravity. First, by isolating the effects of inertia in microgravity, we found that peak hand acceleration marked the transition between two modes of grip force control. Participants exerted grip forces that paralleled load force profiles, and then increased grip up to a maximum shifted after the collision. Second, we found that the oculomotor strategy adapted visual feedback of the controlled object around the collision, as demonstrated by longer durations of fixation after collision in new gravitational environments. Finally, despite large variability of arm dynamics in altered gravity, we found that saccades were remarkably time-locked to the peak hand acceleration in all conditions. In conclusion, altered gravity allowed light to be shed on predictive mechanisms used by the central nervous system to coordinate gaze, hand and grip motor actions during a mixed task that involved transport of an object and high impact loads.

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