Anisotropic Psychophysical Trends in the Discrimination of Tactile Direction in a Precision Grip

Justin Tanner, Naomi Newman, Stephen Helms Tillery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tactile cues arising from interactions with objects have a sense of directionality which affects grasp. Low latency responses to varied grip perturbations indicate that grasp safety margins are exaggerated in certain directions and conditions. In a grip with the ulnar-radial axis vertical, evidence suggests that distal and downward directions are more sensitive to task parameters and have larger safety margins. This suggests that, for the purpose of applying forces with the fingers, reference frames with respect to the hand and gravity are both in operation. In this experiment, we examined human sensitivities to the direction of tactile movement in the context of precision grip in orientations either orthogonal to or parallel to gravity. Subjects performed a two-alternative-forced-choice task involving a textured cube which moved orthogonal to their grip axis. Subjects’ arms were placed in a brace that allowed for finger movement but minimized arm movement. Movement of thumb and index joints were monitored via PhaseSpace motion capture. The subject was presented with a textured cube and instructed to lightly grasp the cube, as if it were slipping. In each trial the object was first translated 1 cm in 0° (proximal), 90° (radial), 180° (distal), or 270° (ulnar) and returned to its origin. This primary stimulus was immediately followed by a 10 mm secondary stimulus at a random 5° interval between −30° and 30° of the primary stimulus. Response from the subject after each pair of stimuli indicated whether the test direction felt the same as or different from the primary stimulus. Traditional bias and sensitivity analyses did not provide conclusive results but suggested that performance is best in the ulnar-radial axis regardless of gravity. Modeling of the response curve generated a detection threshold for each primary stimulus. Lower thresholds, indicating improved detection, persisted in the ulnar-radial axis. Anisotropic thresholds of increased detection appear to coincide with digit displacement and appear to be independent of the grasp orientation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number576020
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jan 12 2021


  • anisotropic
  • bias
  • precision grip
  • psychophysics
  • sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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