We carried out three experiments designed to compare the effects of relative and absolute size on manual prehension and manual estimates of perceived size. In each experiment, right-handed subjects were presented with two different-sized 3-D objects in a virtual display and were instructed to pick up or estimate the size of one of them. In Experiment 1, subjects were requested to pick up the smaller one of two virtual objects under one condition and the larger one under the other condition. In fact, the target object was identical on all trials; it was simply paired with a smaller object on some trials and a larger object on others. To provide veridical haptic feedback, a real object was positioned beneath a mirror at the same location as the virtual target object. In Experiment 2, one of the virtual objects was marked with a red dot on its top surface. From trial to trial, the marked object was paired with a larger, smaller, or same-sized object. Subjects were instructed to always pick up the marked object on each trial. In both Experiment 1 and 2, half the subjects were tested in delayed grasping with a 5-sec delay between viewing the objects and initiating the grasp, and half in real-time grasping without a delay. Using the same display of virtual objects as in Experiment 2, subjects in Experiment 3 were requested to estimate the size of the marked object using their index finger and thumb (i.e., they showed us how big the object looked to them). After estimating the target object's size, they picked it up. All subjects gave their estimates either immediately or after a delay. Recording of hand movements revealed that when subjects in Experiments 1 and 2 picked up the target object in real time, their grip aperture in flight was not significantly affected whether the object was accompanied by a larger object or a smaller one. When subjects picked up the target object after a delay, however, their grip aperture in flight was larger when the target object was accompanied by a smaller object than when it was accompanied by a larger object. A similar size-contrast effect was also observed in Experiment 3 in which subjects gave manual estimates of the perceived size of the target object. This perceptual effect was observed both when the estimates were given immediately and when they were given after a 5-sec delay. These results suggest that normal (real-time) visuomotor control relies on absolute metrics, whereas delayed grasping utilizes the same relative metrics used by conscious perception.

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