Good vibrations: human interval timing in the vibrotactile modality

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2009 Nov;62(11):2171-86. doi: 10.1080/17470210902782200. Epub 2009 Apr 10.


This article reports a detailed examination of timing in the vibrotactile modality and comparison with that of visual and auditory modalities. Three experiments investigated human timing in the vibrotactile modality. In Experiment 1, a staircase threshold procedure with a standard duration of 1,000 ms revealed a difference threshold of 160.35 ms for vibrotactile stimuli, which was significantly higher than that for auditory stimuli (103.25 ms) but not significantly lower than that obtained for visual stimuli (196.76 ms). In Experiment 2, verbal estimation revealed a significant slope difference between vibrotactile and auditory timing, but not between vibrotactile and visual timing. That is, both vibrations and lights were judged as shorter than sounds, and this comparative difference was greater at longer durations than at shorter ones. In Experiment 3, performance on a temporal generalization task showed characteristics consistent with the predications of scalar expectancy theory (SET: Gibbon, 1977) with both mean accuracy and scalar variance exhibited. The results were modelled using the modified Church and Gibbon model (MCG; derived by Wearden, 1992, from Church & Gibbon 1982). The model was found to give an excellent fit to the data, and the parameter values obtained were compared with those for visual and auditory temporal generalization. The pattern of results suggest that timing in the vibrotactile modality conforms to SET and that the internal clock speed for vibrotactile stimuli is significantly slower than that for auditory stimuli, which is logically consistent with the significant differences in difference threshold that were obtained.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Differential Threshold / physiology*
  • Generalization, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Vibration*
  • Visual Perception / physiology