Matching object size by controlling finger span and hand shape

Marco Santello, John F. Soechting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


The ability of human subjects to accurately control finger span (distance between thumb and one finger) was studied. The experiments were performed without visual feedback of the hand and were designed to study the dependence of accuracy on object size, shape, distance, orientation and finger configuration. The effects of finger combination and sensory modality used to perceive object size (vision and haptics) were also studied. Subjects were quite proficient at this task; the small errors tended to be predominantly negative, i.e., finger span < object size. The thumb-little finger combination was less accurate than the other finger combinations, irrespective of the sensory modality used. Subjects made larger under-estimating errors when matching the size of cylinders than when matching cubes and parallelepipeds. No effect of viewing distance, object orientation and finger configuration was found. Accuracy in matching object size was not dependent on the sensory modality used. The question of how the individual degrees of freedom of the fingers and thumb contributed to the control of finger span was also addressed. Principal components analysis showed that two components could characterize the hand postures used, irrespective of object size. The amplitude of the first principal component was constant, and the amplitude of the second scaled linearly with object size. This finding suggests that all of the degrees of freedom of the hand are controlled as a unit. This result is discussed in relation to the 'virtual finger' hypothesis for grasping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-212
Number of pages10
JournalSomatosensory and Motor Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Degrees of freedom
  • Finger span
  • Grasp
  • Hand
  • Principal components

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems


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