We investigated the choice of contact points during multidigit grasping of different objects. In Experiment 1, cylinders were grasped and lifted. Participants were either instructed as to the number of fingers they should use, ranging from a two-finger grasp to a five-finger grasp, or could grasp with their preferred number of fingers. We found a strong relationship between the position of the fingertips on the object and the number of fingers used. In general, variability in the choice of contact points was low within- as well as between participants. The virtual finger, defined as the geometric mean position of fingers opposing the thumb, was in almost perfect opposition to the thumb, suggesting the formation of a functional unit using all contributing fingers in the grasp. In Experiment 2, four more complex shapes (rectangle, hexagon, pentagon, curved object) were grasped. Although we found some moderate between-participant variability in the choice of contact points, the within-participant variability was again remarkably low. In both experiments, participants showed a strong preference to use four or five fingers during grasping when left with free choice. Taken together, our findings suggest a preplanning of the grasping movement and that grasping results from a coordinated interplay between the fingers contributing to the grasp that cannot be understood as independent digit movements.
Grasping Contact points Prehension Motor control Multidigit grasping Virtual finger
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This study was supported by the 7th Framework Program of the European Community (“GRASP,” ICT-215821) and by the Cluster of Excellence “Cognition for Technical Systems” (CoTeSys). We thank Birgitt Aßfalg and Anna Klapetek for help in data collection. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on our study.
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