In reaching and grasping movements, information about object location and object orientation is used to specify the appropriate proximal arm posture and the appropriate positions for the wrist and fingers. Since object orientation is ideally defined in a frame of reference fixed in space, this study tested whether the neural control of hand orientation is also best described as being in this spatial reference frame. With the proximal arm in various postures, human subjects used a handheld rod to approximate verbally defined spatial orientations. Subjects did quite well at indicating spatial vertical and spatial horizontal but made consistent errors in estimating 45° spatial slants. The errors were related to the proximal arm posture in a way that indicated that oblique hand orientations may be specified as a compromise between a reference frame fixed in space and a reference frame fixed to the arm. In another experiment, where subjects were explicitly requested to use a reference frame fixed to the arm, the performance was consistently biased toward a spatial reference frame. The results suggest that reaching and grasping movements may be implemented as an amalgam of two frames of reference, both neurally and behaviorally.

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