Coordinated isometric muscle commands adequately and erroneously programmed for the weight during lifting task with precision grip

Research paper by R. S. Johansson, G. Westling

Indexed on: 01 Jun '88Published on: 01 Jun '88Published in: Experimental Brain Research


Small objects were lifted from a table, held in the air, and replaced using the precision grip between the index finger and thumb. The adaptation of motor commands to variations in the object's weight and sensori-motor mechanisms responsible for optimum performance of the transition between the various phases of the task were examined. The lifting movement involved mainly a flexion of the elbow joint. The grip force, the load force (vertical lifting force) and the vertical position were measured. Electromyographic activity (e.m.g.) was recorded from four antagonist pairs of hand/arm muscles primarily influencing the grip force or the load force. In the lifting series with constant weight, the force development was adequately programmed for the current weight during the loading phase (i.e. the phase of parallel increase in the load and grip forces during isometric conditions before the lift-off). The grip and load force rate trajectories were mainly single-peaked, bell-shaped and roughly proportional to the final force. In the lifting series with unexpected weight changes between lifts, it was established that these force rate profiles were programmed on the basis of the previous weight. Consequently, with lifts programmed for a lighter weight the object did not move at the end of the continuous force increase. Then the forces increased in a discontinous fashion until the force of gravity was overcome. With lifts programmed for a heavier weight, the high load and grip force rates at the moment the load force overcame the force of gravity caused a pronounced positional overshoot and a high grip force peak, respectively. In these conditions the erroneous programmed commands were automatically terminated by somatosensory signals elicited by the start of the movement. A similar triggering by somatosensory information applied to the release of programmed motor commands accounting for the unloading phase (i.e. the parallel decrease in the grip and load forces after the object contacted the table following its replacement). These commands were always adequately programmed for the weight.