Material evidence: Interaction of well-learned priors and sensorimotor memory when lifting objects

Lee A. Baugh, Michelle Kao, Roland S. Johansson, J. Randall Flanagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Skilled object lifting requires the prediction of object weight. When lifting new objects, such prediction is based on well-learned size-weight and material-density correlations, or priors. However, if the prediction is erroneous, people quickly learn the weight of the particular object and can use this knowledge, referred to as sensorimotor memory, when lifting the object again. In the present study, we explored how sensorimotor memory, gained when lifting a given object, interacts with welllearned material-density priors when predicting the weight of a larger but otherwise similar-looking object. Different groups of participants 1st lifted 1 of 4 small objects 10 times. These included a pair of wood-filled objects and a pair of brass-filled objects where 1 of each pair was covered in a wood veneer and the other was covered in a brass veneer. All groups then lifted a larger, brass-filled object with the same covering as the small object they had lifted. For each lift, we determined the initial peak rate of change of vertical load-force rate and the load-phase duration, which provide estimates of predicted object weight. Analysis of the 10th lift of the small cube revealed no effects of surface material, indicating participants learned the appropriate forces required to lift the small cube regardless of object appearance. However, both surface material and core material of the small cube affected the 1st lift of the large block. We conclude that sensorimotor memory related to object density can contribute to weight prediction when lifting novel objects but also that long-term priors related to material properties can influence the prediction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1262-1269
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Object lifting
  • Sensorimotor integration
  • Sensorimotor memory
  • Weight prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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