Auditory adaptation improves tactile frequency perception

J Neurophysiol. 2017 Mar 1;117(3):1352-1362. doi: 10.1152/jn.00783.2016. Epub 2017 Jan 11.


Our ability to process temporal frequency information by touch underlies our capacity to perceive and discriminate surface textures. Auditory signals, which also provide extensive temporal frequency information, can systematically alter the perception of vibrations on the hand. How auditory signals shape tactile processing is unclear; perceptual interactions between contemporaneous sounds and vibrations are consistent with multiple neural mechanisms. Here we used a crossmodal adaptation paradigm, which separated auditory and tactile stimulation in time, to test the hypothesis that tactile frequency perception depends on neural circuits that also process auditory frequency. We reasoned that auditory adaptation effects would transfer to touch only if signals from both senses converge on common representations. We found that auditory adaptation can improve tactile frequency discrimination thresholds. This occurred only when adaptor and test frequencies overlapped. In contrast, auditory adaptation did not influence tactile intensity judgments. Thus auditory adaptation enhances touch in a frequency- and feature-specific manner. A simple network model in which tactile frequency information is decoded from sensory neurons that are susceptible to auditory adaptation recapitulates these behavioral results. Our results imply that the neural circuits supporting tactile frequency perception also process auditory signals. This finding is consistent with the notion of supramodal operators performing canonical operations, like temporal frequency processing, regardless of input modality.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Auditory signals can influence the tactile perception of temporal frequency. Multiple neural mechanisms could account for the perceptual interactions between contemporaneous auditory and tactile signals. Using a crossmodal adaptation paradigm, we found that auditory adaptation causes frequency- and feature-specific improvements in tactile perception. This crossmodal transfer of aftereffects between audition and touch implies that tactile frequency perception relies on neural circuits that also process auditory frequency.

Keywords: audio-tactile; crossmodal; multisensory; somatosensory.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Psychophysics
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult