Grasping in one-handed catching in relation to performance

Benedetta Cesqui, Marta Russo, Francesco Lacquaniti, Andrea D'Avella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Catching a flying ball involves bringing the hand to the aimed interception point at the right time, adjusting the hand posture to receive the incoming ball and to absorb the ball momentum, and closing the hand to ensure a stable grip. A small error in any of these actions can lead to a failure in catching the ball. Here we sought to gather new insights on what aspects of the catching movements affect the interceptive performance most. In particular, we wondered whether the errors occurred in bringing the hand to the interception point or in closing the fingers on the ball, and whether these two phases of interception differed between individuals. To this end, we characterized grasping and wrist movement kinematics of eleven participants attempting to catch a ball projected in space with different ball arrival heights and flight durations. The spatial position of the ball and of several markers placed on the participant's arm were recorded by a motion capture system, the hand joint angles were recorded with an instrumented glove, and several movement features were extracted. All participants were able to intercept the ball trajectory (i.e. to touch the ball) in over 90% of cases, but they differed in the ability to grasp the ball (success rate varied between 2% and 85%). Similar temporal features were observed across individuals when they caught the ball. In particular, all participants adapted their wrist movements under varying temporal and arrival height constraints, they aligned the time of peak hand closing velocity to the time of hand-ball contact, and they maintained the same hand closing duration in the different experimental conditions. These movement features characterized successful trials, and hence allowed to evaluate the possible sources of errors underlying unsuccessful trials. Thus, inter-individual and inter-trial variability in the modulation of each kinematic feature were related to catching performance. We observed that different participants used different solutions to bring the hand to the interception point. In particular the value of the wrist velocity at impact distinguished good from poor catchers. However, each individual showed similar wrist kinematics in grasped and touched trials. We also found that specific grasping features predicted the catching outcome, both on a trial-by-trial basis and across individuals of different performance level. A higher speed of hand closing distinguished touched from grasped trials. A proper triggering of the enclosing phase of the grasping movement and an accurate alignment of the peak of the hand closing speed to the impact event predicted the catching performance of different participants. These results indicate that the control of the grasping movement was the main source of errors affecting catching performance in our experiments. Moreover, these results suggest that distinct temporal and spatial features in the coordination of the grasping movement are related to individual catching abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0158606
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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