Real-time vision, tactile cues, and visual form agnosia: Removing haptic feedback from a “natural” grasping task induces pantomime-like grasps

Robert L. Whitwell, Tzvi Ganel, Caitlin M. Byrne, Melvyn A. Goodale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Investigators study the kinematics of grasping movements (prehension) under a variety of conditions to probe visuomotor function in normal and brain-damaged individuals. “Natural” prehensile acts are directed at the goal object and are executed using real-time vision. Typically, they also entail the use of tactile, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic sources of haptic feedback about the object (“haptics-based object information”) once contact with the object has been made. Natural and simulated (pantomimed) forms of prehension are thought to recruit different cortical structures: patient DF, who has visual form agnosia following bilateral damage to her temporal-occipital cortex, loses her ability to scale her grasp aperture to the size of targets (“grip scaling”) when her prehensile movements are based on a memory of a target previewed 2 s before the cue to respond or when her grasps are directed towards a visible virtual target but she is denied haptics-based information about the target. In the first of two experiments, we show that when DF performs real-time pantomimed grasps towards a 7.5 cm displaced imagined copy of a visible object such that her fingers make contact with the surface of the table, her grip scaling is in fact quite normal. This finding suggests that real-time vision and terminal tactile feedback are sufficient to preserve DF’s grip scaling slopes. In the second experiment, we examined an “unnatural” grasping task variant in which a tangible target (along with any proxy such as the surface of the table) is denied (i.e., no terminal tactile feedback). To do this, we used a mirror-apparatus to present virtual targets with and without a spatially coincident copy for the participants to grasp. We compared the grasp kinematics from trials with and without terminal tactile feedback to a real-time-pantomimed grasping task (one without tactile feedback) in which participants visualized a copy of the visible target as instructed in our laboratory in the past. Compared to natural grasps, removing tactile feedback increased RT, slowed the velocity of the reach, reduced in-flight grip aperture, increased the slopes relating grip aperture to target width, and reduced the final grip aperture (FGA). All of these effects were also observed in the real time-pantomime grasping task. These effects seem to be independent of those that arise from using the mirror in general as we also compared grasps directed towards virtual targets to those directed at real ones viewed directly through a pane of glass. These comparisons showed that the grasps directed at virtual targets increased grip aperture, slowed the velocity of the reach, and reduced the slopes relating grip aperture to the widths of the target. Thus, using the mirror has real consequences on grasp kinematics, reflecting the importance of task-relevant sources of online visual information for the programming and updating of natural prehensile movements. Taken together, these results provide compelling support for the view that removing terminal tactile feedback, even when the grasps are target-directed, induces a switch from real-time visual control towards one that depends more on visual perception and cognitive supervision. Providing terminal tactile feedback and real-time visual information can evidently keep the dorsal visuomotor system operating normally for prehensile acts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number216
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 6 May 2015


  • Grasping
  • Haptic feedback
  • Pantomime grasps
  • Visual feedback
  • Visual form agnosia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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