Advantages of binocular vision for the control of reaching and grasping

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Abstract

Theoretical considerations suggest that binocular information should provide advantages, compared to monocular viewing, for the planning and execution of natural reaching and grasping actions, but empirical support for this is quite equivocal. We have examined these predictions on a simple prehension task in which normal subjects reached, grasped and lifted isolated cylindrical household objects (two sizes, four locations) in a well-lit environment, using binocular vision or with one eye occluded. Various kinematic measures reflecting the programming and on-line control of the movements were quantified, in combination with analyses of different types of error occurring in the velocity, spatial path and grip aperture profiles of each trial. There was little consistent effect of viewing condition on the early phase of the reach, up to and including the peak deceleration, but all other aspects of performance were superior under binocular control. Subjects adopted a cautious approach when binocular information was unavailable: they extended the end phase of the reach and pre-shaped their hand with a wider grip aperture further away from the object. Despite these precautions, initial grip application was poorly coordinated with target contact and was inaccurately scaled to the objects' dimensions, with the subsequent post-contact phase of the grasp significantly more prolonged, error-prone and variable compared to binocular performance. These effects were obtained in two separate experiments in which the participants' performed the task under randomized or more predictable (blocked) viewing conditions. Our data suggest that binocular vision offers particular advantages for controlling the terminal reach and the grasp. We argue that these benefits derive from binocular disparity processing linked to changes in relative hand-target distance, and that this depth information is independently used to regulate the progress of the approaching hand and to guide the digits to the (pre-selected) contact points on the object, thereby ensuring that the grip is securely applied.

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