Speed invariance of tactile texture perception

J Neurophysiol. 2017 Oct 1;118(4):2371-2377. doi: 10.1152/jn.00161.2017. Epub 2017 Jul 19.


The nervous system achieves stable perceptual representations of objects despite large variations in the activity patterns of sensory receptors. Here, we explore perceptual constancy in the sense of touch. Specifically, we investigate the invariance of tactile texture perception across changes in scanning speed. Texture signals in the nerve have been shown to be highly dependent on speed: temporal spiking patterns in nerve fibers that encode fine textural features contract or dilate systematically with increases or decreases in scanning speed, respectively, resulting in concomitant changes in response rate. Nevertheless, texture perception has been shown, albeit with restricted stimulus sets and limited perceptual assays, to be independent of scanning speed. Indeed, previous studies investigated the effect of scanning speed on perceived roughness, only one aspect of texture, often with impoverished stimuli, namely gratings and embossed dot patterns. To fill this gap, we probe the perceptual constancy of a wide range of textures using two different paradigms: one that probes texture perception along well-established sensory dimensions independently and one that probes texture perception as a whole. We find that texture perception is highly stable across scanning speeds, irrespective of the texture or the perceptual assay. Any speed-related effects are dwarfed by differences in percepts evoked by different textures. This remarkable speed invariance of texture perception stands in stark contrast to the strong dependence of the texture responses of nerve fibers on scanning speed. Our results imply neural mechanisms that compensate for scanning speed to achieve stable representations of surface texture.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Our brain forms stable representations of objects regardless of viewpoint, a phenomenon known as invariance that has been described in several sensory modalities. Here, we explore invariance in the sense of touch and show that the tactile perception of texture does not depend on scanning speed. This perceptual constancy implies neural mechanisms that extract information about texture from the response of nerve fibers such that the resulting neural representation is stable across speeds.

Keywords: constancy; psychophysics; touch.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Hand / innervation
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement*
  • Touch
  • Touch Perception*
  • Young Adult