We explored the action of digits during static prehension tasks involving one hand or two hands of one or two persons. Three hypotheses were tested: to prevent slippage of the object, grip force and safety margin (SM) would be largest in bimanual conditions, particularly involving two persons; the distribution of tangential forces would not differ among tested conditions, thus preserving the vertical orientation of the object in a stereotypical way; and the mechanical advantage of fingers would be used to maintain rotational equilibrium. The multi-digit synergies are discussed in the companion paper (Gorniak et al. 2009, in review). The subjects held vertical one of the two handles, a narrow one and a wide one. They used the four fingers of the right hand opposed by either the right hand thumb, the left hand thumb, the left hand index finger, the thumb of an experimenter, the index finger of an experimenter, or an inanimate object. Forces and moments of force produced by each digit were recorded. The first two hypotheses were falsified. Both grip force and SM were the largest in the one-hand task, and they were the lowest for the tasks involving two persons. The distribution of tangential forces among fingers was significantly different in the one-hand task. The mechanical advantage hypothesis was supported across all the tested conditions. The results suggest that the neural controller uses a different strategy in the one-hand task as compared to other tasks, while bimanual prehension involving two persons differs from one-person two-hand tasks. The findings do not support a hypothesis that normal (grip) forces are adjusted to ensure a particular value of the SM. Maintaining rotational equilibrium was achieved differently in different tasks. In particular, the one-hand task was characterized by large intercompensated adjustments in different contributors to the total moment of force, which could be described as chain effects; such adjustments were all but absent in the other conditions. The findings may be interpreted within the framework of the reference configuration hypothesis, in which digit forces emerge due to the discrepancies between the actual and the centrally defined (reference) hand aperture.
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