Abolins, V., Cuadra, C., Ricotta, J., Latash, M. L. (2020). What do people match when they try to match force? Analysis at the level of hypothetical control variables. Experimental Brain Research, 238(3), 1-17. doi: 10.1007/s00221-020-05850-7
We used the theory of control with spatial referent coordinates (RC) to explore how young, healthy persons modify finger pressing force and match forces between the two hands. Three specific hypotheses were tested related to patterns of RC and apparent stiffness (defined as the slope of force-coordinate relation) used in the presence of visual feedback on the force and in its absence. The subjects used the right hand to produce accurate force under visual feedback; further the force could be increased or decreased, intentionally or unintentionally (induced by controlled lifting or lowering of the fingertips). The left hand was used to match force without visual feedback before and after the force change; the match hand consistently underestimated the actual force change in the task hand. The “inverse piano” device was used to compute RC and apparent stiffness. We found very high coefficients of determination for the inter-trial hyperbolic regressions between RC and apparent stiffness in the presence of visual feedback; the coefficients of determination dropped significantly without visual feedback. There were consistent preferred sharing patterns in the space of RC and apparent stiffness between the task and match hands across subjects. In contrast, there was much less consistency between the task and match hands in the magnitudes of RC and apparent stiffness observed in individual trials. Compared to the task hand, the match hand showed consistently lower magnitudes of apparent stiffness and, correspondingly, larger absolute magnitudes of RC. Involuntary force changes produced by lifting and lowering the force sensors led to significantly lower force changes compared to what could be expected based on the computed values of apparent stiffness and sensor movement amplitude. The results confirm the importance of visual feedback for stabilization of force in the space of hypothetical control variables. They suggest the existence of personal traits reflected in preferred ranges of RC and apparent stiffness across the two hands. They also show that subjects react to external perturbations, even when instructed “not to interfere”: Such perturbations cause unintentional and unperceived drifts in both RC and apparent stiffness.