Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 222, Issue 3, pp 265–276 | Cite as

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

  • Dean R. Melmoth
  • Simon GrantEmail author
Research Article


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.


Eye-hand coordination Kinematics Digit trajectories Obstacle avoidance Visual feedback 



This study was supported by The Wellcome Trust (Grant 066282). We thank Dr Lore Thaler, Prof Mark Mon-Williams and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Optometry and Visual Science, Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Visual SciencesCity University LondonLondonUK

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