The role of tactile information in transfer of learned manipulation following changes in degrees of freedom
Humans are capable of transferring learning for anticipatory control of dexterous object manipulation despite changes in degrees-of-freedom (DoF), i.e., switching from lifting an object with two fingers to lifting the same object with three fingers. However, the role that tactile information plays in this transfer of learning is unknown. In this study, subjects lifted an L-shaped object with two fingers (2-DoF), and then lifted the object with three fingers (3-DoF). The subjects were divided into two groups--one group performed the task wearing a glove (to reduce tactile sensibility) upon the switch to 3-DoF (glove group), while the other group did not wear the glove (control group). Compensatory moment (torque) was used as a measure to determine how well the subject could minimize the tilt of the object following the switch from 2-DoF to 3-DoF. Upon the switch to 3-DoF, subjects wearing the glove generated a compensatory moment (Mcom) that had a significantly higher error than the average of the last five trials at the end of the 3-DoF block (p = 0.012), while the control subjects did not demonstrate a significant difference in Mcom. Additional effects of the reduction in tactile sensibility were: (1) the grip force for the group of subjects wearing the glove was significantly higher in the 3-DoF trials compared to the 2-DoF trials (p = 0.014), while the grip force of the control subjects was not significantly different; (2) the difference in centers of pressure between the thumb and fingers (ΔCoP) significantly increased in the 3-DoF block for the group of subjects wearing the glove, while the ΔCoP of the control subjects was not significantly different; (3) lastly, the control subjects demonstrated a greater increase in lift force than the group of subjects wearing the glove (though results were not significant). Combined together, these results suggest different force modulation strategies are used depending on the amount of tactile feedback that is available to the subject. Therefore, reduction of tactile sensibility has important effects on subjects' ability to transfer learned manipulation across different DoF contexts.