Hand synergies during reach-to-grasp

C. R. Mason, J. E. Gomez, T. J. Ebner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

257 Scopus citations


An emerging viewpoint is that the CNS uses synergies to simplify the control of the hand. Previous work has shown that static hand postures for mimed grasps can be described by a few principal components in which the higher order components explained only a small fraction of the variance yet provided meaningful information. Extending that earlier work, this study addressed whether the entire act of grasp can be described by a small number of postural synergies and whether these synergies are similar for different grasps. Five right-handed adults performed five types of reach-to-grasps including power grasp, power grasp with a lift, precision grasp, and mimed power grasp and mimed precision grasp of 16 different objects. The object shapes were cones, cylinders, and spindles, systematically varied in size to produce a large range of finger joint angle combinations. Three-dimensional reconstructions of 21 positions on the hand and wrist throughout the reach-to-grasp were obtained using a four-camera video system. Singular value decomposition on the temporal sequence of the marker positions was used to identify the common patterns ("eigenpostures") across the 16 objects for each task and their weightings as a function of time. The first eigenposture explained an average of 97.3 ± 0.89% (mean ± SD) of the variance of the hand shape, and the second another 1.9 ± 0.85%. The first eigenposture was characterized by an open hand configuration that opens and closes during reach. The second eigenposture contributed to the control of the thumb and long fingers, particularly in the opening of the hand during the reach and the closing in preparation for object grasp. The eigenpostures and their temporal evolutions were similar across subjects and grasps. The higher order eigenpostures, although explaining only small amounts of the variance, contributed to the movements of the fingers and thumb. These findings suggest that much of reach-to-grasp is effected using a base posture with refinements in finger and thumb positions added in time to yield unique hand shapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2896-2910
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001


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