During multi-digit grasping both local and non-local digit force responses occur in response to changes in texture at selected digits depending on the grasp configuration. However, the extent to which the specific patterns of force distribution depend on the requirement to hold the object against gravity remains to be determined. In the present study, we examined whether grasp force sharing patterns are invariant when the constraint of maintaining the object orientation vertical against gravity is removed. We used changes in object texture to elicit force changes at single digits during two grasping tasks with different behavioral contexts. One task entailed holding an object against gravity (object hold [OH]). A second (force production [FP]) task consisted of generating lifting forces on an object clamped to the tabletop that were matched to those used during OH. Unlike OH, the FP task lacks the behavioral consequences associated with erroneous sharing of normal and tangential digit forces, e.g., object tilt. Ten subjects lifted and simulated lifting an instrumented object measuring grasping normal and vertical tangential forces at all five digits when the textures were uniformly high-friction sandpaper or low-friction rayon and when one digit contacted a different frictional texture than the other four digits. We found that in both tasks texture changes at individual digits elicited force changes at that digit as well as other digits. However, the specific pattern of force distribution changes differed during OH compared to FP. While subjects modulate the normal and tangential digit forces to different degrees depending on object texture and the grasping task, they ignore the requirement of moment equilibrium when this has no consequences on object orientation (FP task). These findings indicate that multi-digit force responses to texture revealed by previous studies are not obligatory and suggest that the behavioral context of a task should be considered when inferring general principles of multi-digit force coordination.
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