Opposite perceptual and sensorimotor responses to a size-weight illusion

J Neurophysiol. 2006 Jun;95(6):3887-92. doi: 10.1152/jn.00851.2005. Epub 2006 Apr 26.


The perceptual size-weight illusion (SWI) occurs when two different-sized objects with equal mass are lifted in sequence: the smaller object is consistently reported to feel heavier than the larger object even after repeated lifting attempts. Here we explored the relationship between sensorimotor and perceptual responses to a SWI in which the smaller of the two target objects in fact weighed slightly less (2.7 N) than the larger object (3.2 N). For 20 consecutive lifts, participants consistently reported that the small-light object felt heavier than the large-heavy object; however, concurrently measured lifting dynamics showed exactly the opposite pattern: peak grip force, peak grip force rate, peak load force, and peak load force rate were all significantly greater for the large-heavy object versus the small-light object. The difference in peak load rate between the two objects was greatest for the initial lift but decreased significantly beyond that point, suggesting that the sensorimotor system used sensory feedback to correct for initial over- and underestimations of object mass. Despite these adjustments to lifting dynamics over the early trials, the difference between the judged heaviness of the two objects did not change. The findings clearly demonstrate that the sensorimotor and perceptual systems utilize distinctly different mechanisms for determining object mass.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Lifting*
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Weight Perception / physiology*