Humans can detect and discriminate between fine variations of surface roughness using active touch. It is hitherto believed that roughness perception is mediated mostly by cutaneous and subcutaneous afferents located in the fingertips. However, recent findings have shown that following abolishment of cutaneous afferences resulting from trauma or pharmacological intervention, the ability of subjects to discriminate between textures roughness was not significantly altered. These findings suggest that the somatosensory system is able to collect textural information from other sources than fingertip afference. It follows that signals resulting of the interaction of a finger with a rough surface must be transmitted to stimulate receptor populations in regions far away from the contact. This transmission was characterized by measuring in the wrist vibrations originating at the fingertip and thus propagating through the finger, the hand and the wrist during active exploration of textured surfaces. The spectral analysis of the vibrations taking place in the forearm tissues revealed regularities that were correlated with the scanned surface and the speed of exploration. In the case of periodic textures, the vibration signal contained a fundamental frequency component corresponding to the finger velocity divided by the spatial period of the stimulus. This regularity was found for a wide range of textural length scales and scanning velocities. For non-periodic textures, the spectrum of the vibration did not contain obvious features that would enable discrimination between the different stimuli. However, for both periodic and non-periodic stimuli, the intensity of the vibrations could be related to the microgeometry of the scanned surfaces.
Keywords: roughness; texture; touch; vibration.