Temporal frequency channels are linked across audition and touch

Curr Biol. 2009 Apr 14;19(7):561-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.02.013. Epub 2009 Mar 5.


Temporal frequency is a fundamental sensory dimension in audition and touch. In audition, analysis of temporal frequency is necessary for speech and music perception; in touch, the spectral analysis of vibratory signals has been implicated in texture perception and in sensing the environment through tools. Environmental oscillations impinging upon the ear are generally thought to be processed independently of oscillations impinging upon the skin. Here, we show that frequency channels are perceptually linked across audition and touch. In a series of psychophysical experiments, we demonstrate that auditory stimuli interfere with tactile frequency perception in a systematic manner. Specifically, performance on a tactile-frequency-discrimination task is impaired when an auditory distractor is presented with the tactile stimuli, but only if the frequencies of the auditory and tactile stimuli are similar. The frequency-dependent interference effect is observed whether the distractors are pure tones or band-pass noise, so an auditory percept of pitch is not required for the effect to be produced. Importantly, distractors that strongly impair frequency discrimination do not interfere with judgments of tactile intensity. This surprisingly specific crosstalk between different modalities reflects the importance of supramodal representations of fundamental sensory dimensions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Psychophysics
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Vibration