Capacities of humans and monkeys to discriminate vibratory stimuli of different frequency and amplitude: a correlation between neural events and psychological measurements

J Neurophysiol. 1975 May;38(3):539-59. doi: 10.1152/jn.1975.38.3.539.


The capacities of monkeys and humans to discriminate between mechanical sinusoids differing in amplitude or frequency were measured in a two-alternative, forced-choice task. The difference limen for amplitude discrimination for both species remained constant near 10% of the standard amplitude over the range of 17-30 dB, relative to detection threshold. Equal subjective intensity curves in the 20-40 Hz range were determined at 20 and 29 dB, relative to detection threshold. These curves followed the threshold curve and were identical for the two species. The difference limen for frequency discrimination averaged 1.8 Hz for humans and 2.7 Hz for monkeys; the range of values for the two species overlapped nearly completely. The small sizes of these difference limens indicate, we believe, the capacity of highly trained individuals of either species to ascertain small differences in the temporal order of somesthetic stimuli and of the neural events evoked by them. In one series of experiments we demonstrated that subjects of both species possess two threshold for two different aspects of flutter-vibration which are displaced from each other along the intensive continuum. For either species, the minimum level of stimulus amplitude required for threshold frequency discrimination is about 8 dB above that sufficient for detection. This difference in amplitude is called the atonal interval and matches that observed between absolute and tuning thresholds for quickly adapting, mechanoreceptor afferents (the Meissner afferents) which innervate the glabrous skin of the monkey hand. These and previous findings have permitted a number of direct correlations between behavioral and neural events as regards the sense of flutter. The neural codes for the intensity and frequency of flutter appear to be different. The capacity to detect the presence of a mechanical sinusoid and the capacity to judge its subjective intensity are likely to depend on criterion levels of activity in the total population of Meissner afferents, the former on the appearance of any activity (absolute threshold) in a small population of the most sensitive of these fibers and the latter on the overall size of the active population of neuronal elements at each level of amplitude. The total activity in the relevant neural population elicited by sinusoids of increasing amplitude defines a prothetic continuum along which subjects can judge the magnitude of sensation..

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Differential Threshold / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Macaca / physiology*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated
  • Neurons, Afferent
  • Pacinian Corpuscles / physiology
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology
  • Skin / innervation
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Touch / physiology
  • Vibration*