We explored the origins of unintentional changes in performance during accurate force production in isometric conditions seen after turning visual feedback off. The idea of control with referent spatial coordinates suggests that these phenomena could result from drifts of the referent coordinate for the effector. Subjects performed accurate force/moment production tasks by pressing with the fingers of a hand on force sensors. Turning the visual feedback off resulted in slow drifts of both total force and total moment to lower magnitudes of these variables; these drifts were more pronounced in the right hand of the right-handed subjects. Drifts in individual finger forces could be in different direction; in particular, fingers that produced moments of force against the required total moment showed an increase in their forces. The force/moment drift was associated with a drop in the index of synergy stabilizing performance under visual feedback. The drifts in directions that changed performance (non-motor equivalent) and in directions that did not (motor equivalent) were of about the same magnitude. The results suggest that control with referent coordinates is associated with drifts of those referent coordinates toward the corresponding actual coordinates of the hand, a reflection of the natural tendency of physical systems to move toward a minimum of potential energy. The interaction between drifts of the hand referent coordinate and referent orientation leads to counterdirectional drifts in individual finger forces. The results also demonstrate that the sensory information used to create multifinger synergies is necessary for their presence over the task duration.
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