The purpose of this study was to explore the ability of the central nervous system (CNS) to organize synergies at two levels of a hypothetical control hierarchy involved in two-hand multi-finger prehension tasks with one or more persons participating in the task together. At the higher level of the hierarchy, the total force and moment of force produced on an object are distributed between the thumb and the virtual finger (an imagined finger with mechanical output equal to the involved fingers of the hand), while at the lower level the virtual finger action is distributed among the four fingers. We tested a hypothesis that the CNS is able to organize synergies at only one level of the hierarchy. The subjects held vertically one of the two handles, a narrow one and a wide one. They used the four fingers of the right hand opposed by 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. Indices of synergies stabilizing the mechanical output variables at each of the two levels were computed. Contrary to the expectations, force and moment of force stabilizing synergies were found at one or both levels of the hierarchy across all tasks. Unimanual tasks exhibited higher synergy indices compared to all tasks, while intrapersonal synergy indices were higher than those of interpersonal synergies. The results suggest that both feed-forward and feedback mechanisms may be used to create force and moment of force stabilizing synergies. We invoke the notion of chain effects and generalize it for relations among variance components related to stabilization of different mechanical variables. The reference configuration hypothesis offers a fruitful framework for analysis of prehension synergies.
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