The tactile perception of stimulus orientation

Somatosens Mot Res. 2008 Mar;25(1):49-59. doi: 10.1080/08990220701830662.


Studies of the visual system suggest that, at an early stage of form processing, a stimulus is represented as a set of contours and that a critical feature of these local contours is their orientation. Here, we characterize the ability of human observers to identify or discriminate the orientation of bars and edges presented to the distal fingerpad. The experiments were performed using a 400-probe stimulator that allowed us to flexibly deliver stimuli across a wide range of conditions. Orientation thresholds, approximately 20 degrees on average, varied only slightly across modes of stimulus presentation (scanned or indented), stimulus amplitudes, scanning speeds, and different stimulus types (bars or edges). The tactile orientation acuity was found to be poorer than its visual counterpart for stimuli of similar aspect ratio, contrast, and size. This result stands in contrast to the equivalent spatial acuity of the two systems (at the limit set by peripheral innervation density) and to the results of studies of tactile and visual letter recognition, which show that the two modalities yield comparable performance when stimuli are scaled appropriately.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Orientation*
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Stereognosis*