Multi-Finger Prehension: Control of a Redundant Mechanical System

Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 629)


The human hand has been a fascinating object of study for researchers in both biomechanics and motor control. Studies of human prehension have contributed significantly to the progress in addressing the famous problem of motor redundancy. After a brief review of the hand mechanics, we present results of recent studies that support a general view that the apparently redundant design of the hand is not a source of computational problems but a rich apparatus that allows performing a variety of tasks in a reliable and flexible way (the principle of abundance). Multi-digit synergies have been analyzed at two levels of a hypothetical hierarchy involved in the control of prehensile actions. At the upper level, forces and moments produced by the thumb and virtual finger (an imagined finger with a mechanical action equal to the combined mechanical action of all four fingers of the hand) co-vary to stabilize the gripping action and the orientation of the hand-held object. These results support the principle of superposition suggested earlier in robotics with respect to the control of artificial grippers. At the lower level of the hierarchy, forces and moments produced by individual fingers co-vary to stabilize the magnitude and direction of the force vector and the moment of force produced by the virtual finger. Adjustments to changes in task constraints (such as, for example, friction under individual digits) may be local and synergic. The latter reflect multi-digit prehension synergies and may be analyzed with the so-called chain effects: Sequences of relatively straightforward cause-effect links directly related to mechanical constraints leading to non-trivial strong co-variation between pairs of elemental variables. Analysis of grip force adjustments during motion of hand-held objects suggests that the central nervous system adjusts to gravitational and inertial loads differently. The human hand is a gold mine for researchers interested in the control of natural human movements.


Normal Force Grip Force Tangential Force Elemental Variable Finger Force 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of KinesiologyRec Hall 267, The Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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