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J Neurophysiol. 2017 Nov 1;118(5):2935-2943. doi: 10.1152/jn.00211.2017. Epub 2017 Aug 23.

Role of digit placement control in sensorimotor transformations for dexterous manipulation.

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Kinesiology Program, School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona; and.
School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona


Dexterous manipulation relies on the ability to modulate grasp forces to variable digit position. However, the sensorimotor mechanisms underlying such critical ability are not well understood. The present study addressed whether digit force-to-position modulation relies entirely on feedback of digit placement and force, or on the integration of such feedback with motor commands responsible for digit positioning. In two experiments, we asked 25 subjects to estimate the index fingertip position relative to the thumb (perception test) or to grasp and lift an object with an asymmetrical mass distribution while preventing object roll (action test). Both tests were performed after subjects' digits were placed actively or passively at different distances (active and passive condition, respectively) and without visual feedback. Because motor commands for digit positioning would be integrated with position and force feedback in the active condition, we hypothesized this condition to be characterized by greater accuracy of digit position estimation and digit force-to-position modulation. Surprisingly, discrimination of digit position and force-to-position modulation was statistically indistinguishable in the active and passive conditions. We conclude that voluntary commands for digit positioning are not essential for accurate estimation of finger position or modulation of digit forces to variable digit position. Thus digit force-to-position modulation can be implemented by integrating sensory feedback of digit position and voluntary commands of digit force production following contact.NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study was designed to understand the sensorimotor mechanisms underlying digit force-to-position modulation required for manipulation. Surprisingly, estimation of relative digit position and force-to-position modulation was accurate regardless of whether the digits were passively or actively positioned. Therefore, accurate estimation of digit position does not require an efference copy of active digit positioning, and the hypothesized advantage of active over passive movement on estimation of end-point position appears to be task and effector dependent.


force modulation; haptics; motor commands; perception; psychophysics

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