Motor control goes beyond physics: Differential effects of gravity and inertia on finger forces during manipulation of hand-held objects

Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Fan Gao, Mark L. Latash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


According to basic physics, the local effects induced by gravity and acceleration are identical and cannot be separated by any physical experiment. In contrast-as this study shows-people adjust the grip forces associated with gravitational and inertial forces differently. In the experiment, subjects oscillated a vertically-oriented handle loaded with five different weights (from 3.8 N to 13.8 N) at three different frequencies in the vertical plane: 1 Hz, 1.5 Hz and 2.0 Hz. Three contributions to the grip force-static, dynamic, and stato-dynamic fractions-were quantified. The static fraction reflects grip force related to holding a load statically. The stato-dynamic fraction reflects a steady change in the grip force when the same load is moved cyclically. The dynamic fraction is due to acceleration-related adjustments of the grip force during oscillation cycles. The slope of the relation between the grip force and the load force was steeper for the static fraction than for the dynamic fraction. The stato-dynamic fraction increased with the frequency and load. The slope of the dynamic grip force-load force relation decreased with frequency, and as a rule, increased with the load. Hence, when adjusting grip force to task requirements, the central controller takes into account not only the expected magnitude of the load force but also such factors as whether the force is gravitational or inertial and the contributions of the object mass and acceleration to the inertial force. As an auxiliary finding, a complex finger coordination pattern aimed at preserving the rotational equilibrium of the object during shaking movements was reported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-308
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This study was supported in part by NIH grants AR-048563, AG-018751, and NS-35032. The comments suggested by Dr. Todd Pataky are appreciated.


  • Grasping
  • Grip force
  • Load force
  • Prehension
  • Stato-dynamic relation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)


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