Vibrotactile intensity and frequency information in the pacinian system: a psychophysical model

Percept Psychophys. 2005 Jul;67(5):828-41. doi: 10.3758/bf03193536.


The objective of the study was to characterize the Pacinian representation of stimulus waveform. Subjects were presented with pairs of high-frequency vibrotactile stimuli that varied in intensity and/or frequency content and made same-different judgments under conditions of low-frequency adaptation designed to minimize the contribution of the RA system. We wished to infer the nature of the information conveyed by the Pacinian system about the stimuli from measured sensitivity (d') to stimulus differences. We first tested the hypothesis that the Pacinian system conveys only intensive information about vibratory stimuli and found that intensive cues could not account for much of the variance in the discrimination data. We then proposed a model characterizing the Pacinian-mediated representation of an arbitrary stimulus as a pattern of activation in a set of frequency-tuned minichannels. The model was shown to predict the discriminability of the stimulus pairs presented in the psychophysical experiments. Furthermore, the model parameters, optimized to fit the discrimination data, were compatible with analogous values obtained in other experimental contexts. One of the assumptions underlying the model is that information about individual spectral components is conveyed in parallel and quasi-independently. By simulating the response of a population of Pacinian afferents to a polyharmonic stimulus, we demonstrated that such a population can simultaneously convey information about multiple frequency components, despite having a homogeneous spectral profile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Periodicity*
  • Psychophysics / methods*
  • Psychophysics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Vibration*