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J Vis. 2010 Sep 2;10(11):2. doi: 10.1167/10.11.2.

Visual and haptic perceptual spaces show high similarity in humans.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany.


In this study, we show that humans form highly similar perceptual spaces when they explore complex objects from a parametrically defined object space in the visual and haptic domains. For this, a three-dimensional parameter space of well-defined, shell-like objects was generated. Participants either explored two-dimensional pictures or three-dimensional, interactive virtual models of these objects visually, or they explored three-dimensional plastic models haptically. In all cases, the task was to rate the similarity between two objects. Using these similarity ratings and multidimensional scaling (MDS) analyses, the perceptual spaces of the different modalities were then analyzed. Looking at planar configurations within this three-dimensional object space, we found that active visual exploration led to a highly similar perceptual space compared to passive exploration, showing that participants were able to reconstruct the complex parameter space already from two-dimensional pictures alone. Furthermore, we found that visual and haptic perceptual spaces had virtually identical topology compared to that of the physical stimulus space. Surprisingly, the haptic modality even slightly exceeded the visual modality in recovering the topology of the complex object space when the whole three-dimensional space was explored. Our findings point to a close connection between visual and haptic object representations and demonstrate the great degree of fidelity with which haptic shape processing occurs.

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