Manipulation of a fragile object

Stacey L. Gorniak, Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Mark L. Latash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


We investigated strategies of adjustments in kinetic and kinematic patterns, and in multi-digit synergies during quick vertical transport of an instrumented handle that collapsed when the grasping force exceeded a certain magnitude (quantified with a fragility index). The collapse threshold of the object was set using a novel electromagnetic device. Moving a fragile object is viewed as a task with two constraints on the grip force defined by the slipping and crushing thresholds. When moving more fragile objects, subjects decreased object peak acceleration, increased movement time, showed a drop in the safety margin (SM) (extra force over the slipping threshold), and showed a tendency toward violating the minimum-jerk criterion. Linear regression analysis of grip force against load force has shown tight coupling between the two with a decline in the coefficient of determination with increased fragility index. The SM was lower in bimanual tasks, compared to unimanual tasks, for both fragile and non-fragile objects. Two novel indices have been introduced and studied, the SM due to fragility and the drop-crush index. Both indices showed a decrease with increased object fragility. Changes in the drop-crush index showed that the subjects would rather crush the fragile objects as opposed to dropping them, possibly reflecting the particular experimental procedure. We did not find differences between the performance indices of the dominant and non-dominant hand thus failing to support the recently formulated dominance hypothesis. The synergies stabilizing grip force were quantified at two levels of an assumed two-level control hierarchy using co-variation indices between elemental variables across trials. There were strong synergies at the upper level of the hierarchy (the task is shared between the opposing groups of digits) that weakened with an increase in object fragility. At the lower level (action of an effector is shared among the four fingers), higher fragility led to higher synergy indices. Analysis of force variance showed that an increase in object fragility was accompanied by exploring a smaller range of equivalent combinations of elemental variables. The additional constraint imposed by high fragility facilitated synergies at the lower level of the hierarchy, while there was evidence for a trade-off between synergies at the two levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-430
Number of pages18
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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