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J Neurophysiol. 2009 Dec;102(6):3519-29. doi: 10.1152/jn.00043.2009. Epub 2009 Oct 14.

Perception of simulated local shapes using active and passive touch.

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  • 1Département de Physiologie, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


This study reexamined the perceptual equivalence of active and passive touch using a computer-controlled force-feedback device. Nine subjects explored a 6 x 10-cm workspace, with the index finger resting on a mobile flat plate, and experienced simulated Gaussian ridges and troughs (width, 15 mm; amplitude, 0.5 to 4.5 mm). The device simulated shapes by modulating either lateral resistance with no vertical movement or by vertical movement with no lateral forces, as a function of the digit position in the horizontal workspace. The force profiles and displacements recorded during active touch were played back to the stationary finger in the passive condition, ensuring that stimulation conditions were identical. For the passive condition, shapes simulated by vertical displacements of the finger had lower categorization thresholds and higher magnitude estimates compared with those of active touch. In contrast, the results with the lateral force fields showed that with passive touch, subjects recognized that a stimulus was present but were unable to correctly categorize its shape as convex or concave. This result suggests that feedback from the motor command can play an important role in processing sensory inputs during tactile exploration. Finally, subjects were administered a ring-block anesthesia of the digital nerves of the index finger and subsequently retested. Removing skin sensation significantly increased the categorization threshold for the perception of shapes generated by lateral force fields, but not for those generated by displacement fields.

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