Effects of varying the force levels and direction of force change on accuracy and force variability in a cyclic isometric pinch force tracking task
This study investigated how varying the required force level and the direction of force change produced by the thumb and index finger affect the accuracy and variability of a cyclic isometric pinch force-tracking task. Accuracy was examined by both absolute error and relative error for the minimum and maximum force levels and by root mean square error (RMSE) and normalized root mean square error (normalized RMSE) for the force direction reversals. Variability was represented by coefficient of variation of error (CVE). In this study, ‘maximum force’ was defined as the highest force level of a given target force range, and ‘minimum force’ was defined as the minimum force level of the target range. In addition, ‘force increasing to decreasing’ indicated that the track ball motion changed from increasing to decreasing, requiring the performer to exert increasing force up to the maximum force level and then decreasing force to follow the track ball moving toward the minimum force level. The phrase ‘force decreasing to increasing’ indicated the opposite force direction reversal. Eighteen healthy right handed adult volunteers (nine men and nine women; mean age ± SD, 28.3±1.22 and 26.4±1.74) participated in this study. The participants performed a cyclic isometric pinch force tracking task over three different force ranges. Force range 1 was from a minimum force of 3% of maximal voluntary contraction force (MVC) to a maximum force of 6% MVC. In force range 2, the range was from 6% to 12% MVC, and force range 3 was from 12% to 24% MVC. For each force range, five practice trials and ten actual test trials were performed. Rest periods of twenty seconds between trials and one minute between sets of trials (including between practice and actual test trials) were provided to minimize fatigue effects. Absolute error uniformly increased as a function of increasing force. However, the 3% target force level showed larger relative error compared to the 12% target force level (p < 0.05). Another finding of this study was that producing forces positioned at the minimum target level in a range yielded higher absolute error and relative error compared to the same forces when placed at the maximum target level of a different force range. In terms of the reversals, RMSE values were higher at the change from force deceasing to increasing than the opposite, as well as at higher force levels, while normalized RMSE values were greater at lower force levels. CVE was not significantly different between the two reversals in this study. This might indicate that poorer performance during the change from force decreasing to increasing could originate from the effort to maintain consistent performance and additional effort was not beneficial to increase accuracy for the change from force decreasing to increasing.