Friction is preferred over grasp configuration in precision grip grasping

Abstract

ABSTRACT How humans visually select where to grasp an object depends on many factors, including grasp stability and preferred grasp configuration. We examined how endpoints are selected when these two factors are brought into conflict: Do people favor stable grasps or do they prefer their natural grasp configurations? Participants reached to grasp one of three cuboids oriented so that its two corners were either aligned with, or rotated away from, each individual’s natural grasp axis (NGA). All objects were made of brass (mass: 420 g) but the surfaces of their sides were manipulated to alter friction: 1) all-brass, 2) two opposing sides covered with wood, while the other two remained of brass, or 3) two opposing sides covered with sandpaper, and the two remaining brass sides smeared with vaseline. Grasps were evaluated as either clockwise (thumb to the left of finger in frontal plane) or counterclockwise of the NGA. Grasp endpoints depended on both object orientation and surface material. For the all-brass object, grasps were bimodally distributed in the NGA-aligned condition but predominantly clockwise in the NGA-unaligned condition. These data reflected participants’ natural grasp configuration independently of surface material. When grasping objects with different surface materials, endpoint selection changed: Participants sacrificed their usual grasp configuration to choose the more stable object sides. A model in which surface material shifts participants’ preferred grip angle proportionally to the perceived friction of the surfaces accounts for our results. Our findings demonstrate that a stable grasp is more important than a biomechanically comfortable grasp configuration. NEW & NOTEWORTHY When grasping an object, humans can place their fingers at several positions on its surface. The selection of these endpoints depends on many factors, with two of the most important being grasp stability and grasp configuration. We put these two factors in conflict and examine which is considered more important. Our results highlight that humans are not reluctant to adopt unusual grasp configurations in order to satisfy grasp stability.