Haptic study of three-dimensional objects activates extrastriate visual areas

Neuropsychologia. 2002;40(10):1706-14. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(02)00017-9.


In humans and many other primates, the visual system plays the major role in object recognition. But objects can also be recognized through haptic exploration, which uses our sense of touch. Nonetheless, it has been argued that the haptic system makes use of 'visual' processing to construct a representation of the object. To investigate possible interactions between the visual and haptic systems, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure the effects of cross-modal haptic-to-visual priming on brain activation. Subjects studied three-dimensional novel clay objects either visually or haptically before entering the scanner. During scanning, subjects viewed visually primed, haptically primed, and non-primed objects. They also haptically explored non-primed objects. Visual and haptic exploration of non-primed objects produced significant activation in several brain regions, and produced overlapping activation in the middle occipital area (MO). Viewing visually and haptically primed objects produced more activation than viewing non-primed objects in both area MO and the lateral occipital area (LO). In summary, haptic exploration of novel three-dimensional objects produced activation, not only in somatosensory cortex, but also in areas of the occipital cortex associated with visual processing. Furthermore, previous haptic experience with these objects enhanced activation in visual areas when these same objects were subsequently viewed. Taken together, these results suggest that the object-representation systems of the ventral visual pathway are exploited for haptic object perception.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Stereognosis*
  • Task Performance and Analysis