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A kinematic examination of hand perception


Previous research has found that the perception of our hands is inaccurate. This distorted representation has several constant characteristics including an overestimation of hand width and an underestimation of finger length. In this study, we further investigate this phenomenon by exploring the boundaries of hand representation. Participants placed one hand underneath a table top so it was occluded from view. Using their free hand, participants were instructed to point to the location where they believed the tips and bases of each of their fingers were. These ten landmarks were recorded using a motion capture system. One group of participants pointed to the landmarks in a random order (as done in previous studies) while another group pointed to them in a systematic fashion (from the tip of the thumb sequentially through to the pinky). Furthermore, to explore if having a frame of reference facilitates hand perception, some participants initiated each of their estimations directly from the previous landmark while others initiated them from a home spot located outside the span of the hand. Results showed that the participants who pointed in the systematic order made numerous accurate judgments of hand size and were overall more precise than participants who pointed in a random order. Including a frame of reference however, had no effect on the judgments. The results also showed asymmetries in hand perception. These findings are discussed in relation to different possible internal body representations and hemispheric asymmetries in body perception.

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    We also conducted a repeated measures ANOVA using the standard deviation of the five repetitions to each landmark to assess if hand differences were related to the hand employed to point to the landmarks. No significant differences were found between the right and left hands.


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Correspondence to Lara A. Coelho.

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This study was funded by a discovery grant awarded to Claudia LR Gonzalez from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Coelho, L.A., Zaninelli, G. & Gonzalez, C.L.R. A kinematic examination of hand perception. Psychological Research 81, 1224–1231 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-016-0815-9

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  • Index Finger
  • Systematic Order
  • Body Representation
  • Holistic Representation
  • Continuous Pattern