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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2012 Aug;38(4):822-6. doi: 10.1037/a0029046. Epub 2012 Jun 18.

Vibrotactile discrimination of musical timbre.

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Department of Psychology, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada.


Five experiments investigated the ability to discriminate between musical timbres based on vibrotactile stimulation alone. Participants made same/different judgments on pairs of complex waveforms presented sequentially to the back through voice coils embedded in a conforming chair. Discrimination between cello, piano, and trombone tones matched for F0, duration, and magnitude was above chance with white noise masking the sound output of the voice coils (Experiment 1), with additional masking to control for bone-conducted sound (Experiment 2), and among a group of deaf individuals (Experiment 4a). Hearing (Experiment 3) and deaf individuals (Experiment 4b) also successfully discriminated between dull and bright timbres varying only with regard to spectral centroid. We propose that, as with auditory discrimination of musical timbre, vibrotactile discrimination may involve the cortical integration of filtered output from frequency-tuned mechanoreceptors functioning as critical bands.

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