Haptic sensing of objects acquires information about a number of properties. This review summarizes current understanding about how these properties are processed in the cerebral cortex of macaques and humans. Nonnoxious somatosensory inputs, after initial processing in primary somatosensory cortex, are partially segregated into different pathways. A ventrally directed pathway carries information about surface texture into parietal opercular cortex and thence to medial occipital cortex. A dorsally directed pathway transmits information regarding the location of features on objects to the intraparietal sulcus and frontal eye fields. Shape processing occurs mainly in the intraparietal sulcus and lateral occipital complex, while orientation processing is distributed across primary somatosensory cortex, the parietal operculum, the anterior intraparietal sulcus, and a parieto-occipital region. For each of these properties, the respective areas outside primary somatosensory cortex also process corresponding visual information and are thus multisensory. Consistent with the distributed neural processing of haptic object properties, tactile spatial acuity depends on interaction between bottom-up tactile inputs and top-down attentional signals in a distributed neural network. Future work should clarify the roles of the various brain regions and how they interact at the network level.
Keywords: haptic information; multisensory processing; neocortex; object properties; visual cortex.