Sensory information from a slipping object elicits a rapid and automatic shoulder response

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Journal of Neurophysiology





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© 2020 the American Physiological Society. Humans have the remarkable ability to hold, grasp, and manipulate objects. Previous work has reported rapid and coordinated reactions in hand and shoulder muscles in response to external perturbations to the arm during object manipulation; however, little is known about how somatosensory feedback of an object slipping in the hand influences responses of the arm. We built a handheld device to stimulate the sensation of slipping at all five fingertips. The device was integrated into an exoskeleton robot that supported it against gravity. The setup allowed us to decouple somatosensory stimulation in the fingers from forces applied to the arm, two variables that are highly interdependent in real-world scenarios. Fourteen participants performed three experiments in which we measured their arm feedback responses during slip stimulation. Slip stimulations were applied horizontally in one of two directions, and participants were instructed to either follow the slip direction or move the arm in the opposite direction. Participants showed shoulder muscle responses within ∼67 ms of slip onset when following the direction of slip but significantly slower responses when instructed to move in the opposite direction. Shoulder responses were modulated by the speed but not the distance of the slip. Finally, when slip stimulation was combined with mechanical perturbations to the arm, we found that sensory information from the fingertips significantly modulated the shoulder feedback responses. Overall, the results demonstrate the existence of a rapid feedback system that stabilizes handheld objects.

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